The million dollar question: How long does it take for teeth to rot?

How long does it takes to rot your teeth

Tooth decay (commonly known as rotting of the teeth) is the most common problem that happens in the mouth, aside from gingivitis or gum inflammation.

Everybody has suffered at least one minor cavity in their lifetime and we all dread going to the dentist for check-ups. Having a cavity filled is not a nice experience.

Tooth decay is a complicated process of many steps and involves many factors. One of the most important factors of tooth rot is TIME.

So we are here to answer the question of “How long does it take for teeth to rot?

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How long does it take for tooth to decay?

Tooth decay happens because of 3 main factors which are food remnants (or plaque), bacteria and time.

Food remnants

This is the source of nourishment for the bacteria. Plaque starts to form on the surface of the teeth if they remain unclean for over 3 days. If you keep refraining from brushing and flossing for about 2 weeks, the plaque hardens into calculus (aka tartar).

Which cannot be removed by your hands and the visit to the dentist becomes inevitable.

Bacteria

The mouth is a clean-contaminated environment. This means that the bacteria live inside our mouths whether we like it or not, and regardless of how clean our mouth is.

So having bacteria inside the mouth is not the issue.

But the problem starts when you give these bacteria a source of food (meaning the plaque). The bacteria feed on this plaque and start producing acids and toxins, leading to all sorts of problems. Such as gum bleeding, gum inflammation and of course tooth decay, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Time

Time is a very important and forgotten factor in the process. The toxins produced by the bacteria do not appear out of thin air, so they need a bit of time to start causing damage.

But how much time? How long does it take for teeth to rot without brushing? That is what we attempt to answer next.

Tooth decay and rot process explained

The process goes as follows:

  • When you don’t brush and floss for about 3 days, plaque starts to accumulate on the surfaces (and between) your teeth.
  • The bacteria that are already in the mouth become attracted to this plaque and invade it, using it as a source of nutrition.
  • The now well-nourished bacteria start to produce acids. These acids eat away at the outer layer of the teeth (known as the enamel) which is made entirely of minerals with no sensitive part. Which means you would feel no pain during this phase. But that does not mean that the damage isn’t happening. This happens within the first week of plaque accumulation, provided that the teeth are still uncleaned properly. (Pay extra attention to this part because it is very critical to what comes next!).
  • After the enamel “melts”, the insides of the tooth become unprotected and vulnerable. The bacteria invades the inner parts of the teeth (the sensitive parts) and that is when the pain starts. Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine for certain
    how long this phase takes. It may take a few months and sometimes even years for the real damage to appear.
  • The pain starts mildly, but becomes more severe over time as the bacteria dig deeper into the teeth. Once they reach the inner core of the tooth (known as the pulp or nerve of the tooth) the pain becomes unbearable and you would definitely need a root
    canal.
  • If somehow you were able to power through that pain without going to the dentist, the rotting process continues. Eventually so much of the tooth has rotted that the dentist would be unable to restore it, and it will definitely need to be removed.

How long does it take for your teeth to rot?

If you look closely, you will find that “time” is a factor in all of these steps:

  • 3 days for the plaque to develop,
  • 1 week before the bacteria starts to dissolve the enamel using acids, and
  • 3 weeks for enamel demineralization and the start of decay.

Can I stop the process of tooth decay?

The reason why we mentioned such specific time frames is for you to know that you can stop the process of decay at any time.

If you catch it early enough, you might be even able to reverse (or at least limit) the damage done.

Let’s say you forgot to brush and floss for 3 days and now you have plaque on your teeth. If you go back to your oral hygiene routine, you are cutting the process of decay off at the knees as one of the main factors of decay.

If you haven’t taken care of your teeth in a proper while (2 or more weeks) that means your teeth are now in the middle of the enamel dissolving phase. Which is the most dangerous because in reality, you wouldn’t feel anything because the enamel has no sensation.

Again you remember your old habits of proper oral hygiene and start to take care of your teeth again. You are effectively removing not only the plaque, but the bacteria stuck to it as well. So you will be removing 2 of the 3 factors of decay.

In other words, it is never too late to start brushing and flossing to save your teeth from decay.

How long does it take for teeth to rot, answered!

Of the 3 factors of decay, the one that you can’t control is time. While we can say for certain that plaque will accumulate within 3 days, and bacteria will start their enamel dissolving action within a week. It is impossible to tell how long it will take to start producing real damage. But it is up to you to stop their action.

So it is not really a question of “how long does it take for teeth to rot”, but really “what are you going to do about it now to stop it?”

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