What is Caries?
Caries is the disease process characterized by progressive invasion of bacteria from plaque into a tooth causing softening and destruction of the tooth structure. The caries usually starts in the grooves of the teeth where it is the most difficult to remove the bacteria associated with plaque because of the inaccessibility of tooth brush bristles into the tiny grooves of the teeth. Although you can also get caries between the teeth if you do not floss your teeth, or at the gum-line, if you do not brush that area well.
Stages of caries
Caries is broken into three stages as shown below: early caries, moderate caries and late stage caries.
Early caries is confined to the enamel of the tooth. The treatment of caries at this stage is more preventive. Fluoride can be used or a very small filling. If a filling is done, usually the tooth does not even have to be numbed.
When a tooth has moderate caries, that means that the caries has gone farther into the tooth to the next layer called dentin. When caries reaches the dentin it tends to speed up and spread out. In this stage a larger filling and sometimes a crown will need to be done, depending on how much tooth structure is affected.
When the tooth is completely overcome with caries and the pulp has been invaded, the pulp tissue becomes necrotic or dead. If this happens it is a source of infection and the pulp needs to be removed with a root canal or the entire tooth needs to be removed by way of extraction depending on how much of the tooth structure is affected. Many times the tooth will be abscessed and painful, but not always.