Stages of Tooth Decay and How to Prevent It

Stages of Tooth Decay and How to Prevent It

Recognizing and Preventing Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is deterioration of tooth enamel which can result in cavities, abscesses, and tooth loss. It is caused by bacteria growth in dental plaque, which changes sugar from food into acids that build up over time. This bacteria growth can begin to damage teeth over time. 


Though it can seem scary, tooth decay is largely prevetnable. A healthy diet paired with proper oral hygeine can reduce plaque in the mouth and inhibit tooth decay. To better understand tooth decay, it’s imperative to understand the stages that tooth decay occurs in. These stages are progressive and can be prevented through dietary and lifestyle changes. Ready to learn how to keep your teeth strong and healthy? Keep reading as we walk through the stages of dental decay, factors that contribute to tooth decay, and explore ways to prevent decay. 

The Stages Tooth Decay

The leading culprit behind tooth decay is dental plaque. Plaque is sticky, colorless film that coats the surfaces of teeth. This plaque is comprised of bacteria, food particles, and saliva, making it the perfect environment for bacterial growth. 


The only way to remove plaque is by regularly brushing and flossing teeth - making proper dental hygiene vital for your oral health. Plaque can also harden over time, forming tartar. Tartar is harder to remove than plaque, so prevention is key. 


Tooth decay caused by plaque and tartar build up occurs in four progressive stages.

Stage 1: Enamel Stripped

The outermost surface of your teeth is called enamel. Enamel is the hardest tissue of your body and is made up of hard minerals. This tough substance is ultra durable, making it helpful to talk, chew, and tear through food - but it can deteriorate when exposed to plaque, bacteria, and acids. 


Acids can wear away at enamel, causing demineralization. If plaque is not removed, enamel further wears down, and sometimes exhibits staning or spotting. 


If the process of tooth decay is allowed to continue, enamel will break down further. You may notice that a white spot on a tooth darkens to a brownish color. As enamel weakens, dental caries or cavities form. These small areas of decay or holes must be filled by a dentist, or they will continue to grow and spread. 

Stage 2: Dentin Deterioration

Beneath the enamel lies a different kind of tissue called dentin. Dentin is a softer tissue than enamel and is more sensitive to acidic decay. Once decay reaches the dentin level of your teeth, it spreads faster and is more destructive. 


In addition to being softer, the dentin level of teeth is more sensitive as it connects to the nerves of teeth. Dentin decay may cause severe sensitivity, especially when you drink hot or cold drinks or eat food that is particularly hot or cold. 

Stage: 3. Pulp Decay

Pulp is at the core of the tooth. Pulp contains blood vessels and nerves, meaning that damage at this level can cause severe pain. Damage to the pump causes inflammation and swelling. When swelling presses on the nerves of the teeth, 

Stage 4. Abscess Formation

The last step involves the formation of abscesses, at which point the integrity of the tooth is wholly compromised and requires treatment. When bacteria reaches the pulp and causes inflammation, infection may occur. As infection takes over the pulp, pockets of pus, called abscesses, may form at the base of the tooth.


Signs of tooth abscesses are pain, including pain that radiates to the jaw, swallowing of the gums, face, and jaw, fever, and enlarged lymphnodes. Abscesses require prompt treatment, as infection can spread to the jaw and bones. Sometimes, tooth removal is required to entirely treat tooth decay and abscesses.

How to Prevent Tooth Decay

The most important treatment for tooth decay is prevention. Factors that can help inhibit decay are diet, fluoride use, oral hygiene, and balancing your oral pH.

1. Utilize Fluoride

Fluoride is a powerful mineral that aids in building healthy, strong tooth enamel. This mineral prevents decay by strengthening enamel and making it more resistant to bacterial growth. Most toothpastes and mouthwashes contain fluoride that help to strengthen enamel. Additionally, your drinking water may even contain small amounts of fluoride.

2. Consider Dietary Changes

Diet has a huge impact on your oral health. Two factors of food help to inhibit bacterial growth: physical and chemical properties of food. Physical properties are the hardness or fibrous texture of foods, while chemical properties are the vitamins and minerals contained within foods. Both influence how foods help keep teeth healthy and strong.


Cutting down on acidic foods and drinks like soda, citrus juices, coffee, and alcohol are helpful for protecting enamel. Reducing your intake of sugar, simple carbohydrates, and sticky foods that adhere to teeth can also reduce decay.


Crunchy, fibrous fruits and vegetables like carrots, apples, celery, and broccoli all contain physical and chemical components that help to reduce plaque growth. Their crunchy texture buffs away surface bacteria while you chew them, and they have a high vitamin and water content that replenishes the mouth of important minerals and wash plaque away from the teeth. Foods rich in calcium, like yogurt, and vitamin d, like salmon, help to strengthen enamel. A strong enamel is less susceptible to decay.

3. Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is helpful to prevent tooth decay. Along with proper oral hygeine, it’s important to drink plenty of water which helps wash away bacteria and food debris. Quitting smoking can also prevent tooth decay. Reducing your stress level can also enhance your oral health, as stress is linked to dental problems like dry mouth, grinding teeth, and inflammation. 

4. Balance the Microbiome

Your oral microbiome is composed of bacteria within the mouth. It’s important to have a balanced microbiome, which is defined by the pH balance in your mouth. This can be assisted by proper oral hygeine and diet, as well as certain products that help to neutralize the pH balance of the mouth like the GLO ECO Balance Deep Clean & Gum Resotration Oral Health Booster, a twice-daily toothpaste topper that deep cleans and balances the mouth. 

5. Maintain Oral Health Routines

From brushing and flossing, to dentist checkups, routines can prevent the formation of plaque and thus inhibit decay. As mentioned earlier, the only way to truly remove plaque is by regularly brushing and flossing. For your healthiest mouth, brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste and follow up with gentle-yet-thorough flossing to remove food debris and bacteria. 


In addition, using a fluoride mouthwash or rinse as a follow-up can help wash away additional bacteria and protect your enamel. There are other deep-clean products like the GLO ECO Balance Deep Clean & Gum Restoration Oral Health Booster that clean 12x more effectively than brushing and flossing alone.