How Decay Affects Tooth Anatomy

Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, is a common dental problem that affects people of all ages. It occurs when bacteria in the mouth produce acids that erode the hard tissues of the tooth. You may not know this, but the tooth has multiple layers. When you have tooth decay, it can impact each layer. But how exactly does tooth decay impact the anatomy of a tooth? 

How Decay Affects Tooth Anatomy

Know Your Tooth Anatomy

A tooth has several layers, each serving a specific function. 

Enamel is the hard, outermost layer of the tooth. It is primarily composed of minerals like calcium and phosphate. It is the hardest substance in the human body! Enamel serves as a protective barrier, shielding the inner layers of the tooth from bacteria and acids.

Beneath the enamel lies dentin, a softer, porous layer that makes up the bulk of the tooth’s structure. Dentin contains microscopic tubules that connect to the nerves and blood vessels in the pulp of the tooth. Dentin provides support and structure to the tooth.

At the center of the tooth is the pulp, which contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. The pulp is essential for the tooth’s growth and development during its formative years. It also plays a role in sensing stimuli, such as temperature and pressure.

Cementum covers the roots of the tooth and helps anchor it to the jawbone. It is not as hard as enamel but serves a similar protective function, especially for the roots of the tooth.

The Impact of Tooth Decay

There are many ways that tooth decay can affect the different layers of your teeth. 

Enamel Erosion

Tooth decay typically begins on the outer surface of the enamel. When bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars from food and beverages, they produce acids as a byproduct. These acids can erode the minerals in the enamel, leading to the formation of tiny holes or cavities.

Dentin Exposure

As tooth decay progresses, the acids continue to penetrate through the enamel and reach the underlying dentin. Dentin is much softer than enamel and is more susceptible to acid erosion. Once the dentin is exposed, the decay process speeds up. As a result, the cavity grows larger at a faster rate.

Pulp Involvement

Without treatment, the decay can eventually reach the pulp of the tooth. The pulp contains nerves and blood vessels, which can become inflamed and infected when exposed to bacteria and acids. This can lead to severe pain, sensitivity, and even abscess formation.

Root Damage

In some cases, tooth decay can extend below the gum line and affect the roots of the tooth. Since the roots are covered by cementum rather than enamel, they are particularly vulnerable to decay when exposed. Root decay can cause the tooth to become loose and may ultimately result in tooth loss if left untreated.