A cavity may cause a toothache or tooth sensitivity. You may also feel a cavity when your tongue brushes over your tooth and feels a little crack or opening. At this point, your tooth decay probably can’t be reversed naturally.
It takes a professional dental exam to identify the early stages of a cavity.
What is a cavity? A cavity is a damaged portion of your tooth that develops into tiny holes. The term “cavities” is often used synonymously with “tooth decay” and “dental caries”.
We will briefly discuss what a tooth cavity feels like, how to prevent cavities, and when to see a dentist.
What does a cavity feel like? 8 Symptoms of a Cavity
What does a cavity feel like? A cavity can feel painful, like a toothache, especially when biting down or eating. If your tongue touches a cavity, you may feel a crack or unexpected divot. However, a cavity that has not spread to the dentin layer of your teeth may cause no symptoms at all.
How can you tell if you have a cavity? Possible cavity symptoms include:
- Tooth pain
- Sensitive teeth
- Visible holes
- Soft to touch
- Bad breath
- Bad taste in mouth
- Tender to pressure
Do cavities hurt? Yes, cavities can cause tooth pain. Not all cavities hurt, but many cavities cause toothache as more and more inner tooth nerves and blood vessels are exposed by the cavity.
Can you have a cavity and not feel it? Yes, you can have a cavity and not feel it — there are many symptoms of a cavity that you may not actively feel or notice. In particular, the early stages of a dental cavity are difficult to identify by symptoms or feel alone.
Can a cavity go away on its own? An early cavity can naturally remineralize on its own with good dental hygiene and a tooth-friendly diet. But it is much more likely that, when left untreated, a cavity will continue to eat away at your tooth.
Let’s go into more detail about each of these signs of a cavity, including what other disorders each symptom could indicate — so you know whether it is a cavity causing your symptoms or something different.
1. Tooth Pain
Tooth pain (toothache) refers to discomfort in and around your teeth or jaw. Cavities may cause temporary or persistent tooth pain.
Tooth pain can also be caused by other issues, such as:
- Gum disease (also known as periodontitis)
- Bacterial infection around your teeth or gums
- Injury to teeth or jaw
- Dental procedure
- Tooth abscess
2. Sensitive Teeth
Sensitive teeth (sometimes called “dentin hypersensitivity”) are a common symptom of cavities.
When your gums recede, it also causes sensitive teeth as the roots of your teeth are more exposed, leading to higher nerve sensitivity.
Your teeth may be sensitive to the following:
- Hot air
- Cold air
- Hot foods and drinks
- Cold foods and drinks
- Sweet foods
Other causes of sensitive teeth besides cavities:
- Gum disease
- Receding gums
- Cracked or chipped tooth
- Worn out filling
3. Visible Holes
The simplest definition of a cavity is a visible hole. A hole in your tooth is an almost certain sign of a cavity.
As the bacteria in dental plaque eats away at your tooth enamel and deeper layers of the tooth, holes form.
Visible holes are almost always caused by cavities. Only a very precise tooth injury or dental drilling could produce a similar symptom.
4. Soft to Touch
Dark spots on your tooth can become soft to the touch before they develop into visible holes. This is usually easier for your dentist to find than it will be for you to feel.
One early sign of tooth decay is chalky white spots on your tooth, which are not soft to touch.
5. Bad Breath
Cavities eventually cause bad breath — partly because of the harmful, smelly bacteria that has been allowed to thrive, and partly because deep cavities may cause irreversible pulpitis (death of your tooth pulp), which gives off a foul odor.
Other causes of bad breath:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Certain foods
- Tobacco products
- Excessive alcohol
- Certain medications
- Dry mouth
- Acid reflux
- Liver failure
6. Bad Taste in your Mouth
Cavities leave a bad taste in your mouth for the same reason they cause bad breath — bacterial buildup and, in some cases, pulpitis.
Cavities cause dark spots on your teeth as the decay spreads.
At the early stages of a cavity, you may see chalky, white spots that feel “normal”. The spots may indicate the beginning of a cavity or a small cavity that was already remineralized.
The dark spots of a cavity may be the following colors:
- Dark green
Here are other causes of tooth discoloration:
- Food or drink that stains teeth (coffee, wine, curry, etc.)
- Tobacco use
- Certain medications
- Tooth injury
- Dental products
- Using too much fluoride before the age of 9
- Old age
- Family history of yellowing or discolored teeth
Dental professionals may suggest certain whitening products to correct teeth discoloration, depending on the root cause.
8. Tender to Pressure
When cavities erode away your tooth enamel, your teeth become more tender to pressure.
Similar to hot/cold sensitivity, pressure sensitivity has to do with the exposure of dentin, which is more porous than enamel and, therefore, more sensitive to pressure.
Unfortunately, being tender to pressure includes bite sensitivity. When you have cavities, it may eventually hurt simply to bite down.
Besides cavities, here are other reasons your teeth could be tender to pressure:
- Tooth grinding
- Clenched jaw
- Tooth abscess
- Tooth injury
- Dental procedures
Can a cavity go away on its own?
If a cavity is caught in the earliest stages, you can naturally remineralize that tooth so that the cavity goes away.
To naturally remineralize teeth:
- Use a fluoride toothpaste or hydroxyapatite toothpaste
- Follow a sugar-free diet
- Eat calcium-, magnesium-, and phosphorus-rich foods
- Drink water instead of acidic or sugary drinks like energy drinks
However, most noticeable symptoms of a cavity indicate your teeth are too damaged to naturally remineralize.
Your dentist may be able to catch the beginnings of tooth decay and talk to you about the best way to naturally remineralize your teeth. That’s why it’s important never to skip a dental cleaning!
When to See Your Dentist
You should see a dentist at any symptoms of a cavity, such as constant toothache, tooth sensitivity, or tooth discoloration.
Your dentist may perform a dental filling, root canal, or tooth extraction, depending on the extent of your cavity. Dental fillings are the most common restoration a dentist performs to fix a cavity.
Of course, everyone should visit their dentist every six months for their twice yearly checkup.
At each dental visit, your dentist can use x-rays and a physical exam of your teeth to identify problems with your oral health (like dental cavities) before they become a huge problem. On top of that, everyone needs a professional cleaning twice a year to keep tartar buildup under control.
How do cavities form?
Cavities form when:
- Harmful bacteria in your mouth spread and attach to your teeth. Leftover food particles in between your teeth help speed up this process.
- Bacteria buildup forms dental plaque on your teeth. Even when you brush your teeth, this happens every few hours. That is why we brush multiple times a day.
- If you do not brush and floss, the plaque remains on your teeth, feeding off of the fermentable carbs in your diet (such as sugar) and producing acid that eats away at the surface of the tooth.
- Once the plaque has started to eat away at your tooth, you have a cavity. But the plaque will continue to erode your outer tooth enamel, then your dentin layer, all the way down to your inner pulp.
- Eventually, the cavity is deep enough to cause nerve irritation, and could require a root canal or extraction.
The plaque that forms cavities can also form tartar (AKA calculus). Tartar is essentially hardened plaque that traps stains and discoloration on your teeth. Tartar makes it harder to clean plaque off your teeth, making it even easier for cavities to continue forming.
Tartar cannot be cleaned at home; it must be removed off your teeth by a dentist.
Who is at risk for cavities?
Everyone is at some risk of tooth decay, but those at higher risk for cavities include:
- Drug abusers
- Teeth grinders
- Those with dry mouth
- Chemotherapy patients
- People with unhealthy diet (high in acidic and sweet foods)
- People with poor oral hygiene
Complications of Untreated Cavities
There are several surprising complications of cavities when they go untreated:
- Tooth loss
- Tooth abscess
- Gum disease
- Cavernous sinus thrombosis
- Ludwig’s angina
- Atherosclerosis (plaque in your arteries)
How to Prevent Cavities
To prevent cavities:
- Use an electric toothbrush, not a manual toothbrush.
- Steer clear of hard bristles. Only use soft bristled toothbrushes.
- Brush with an electric three-headed toothbrush, for a better clean in half the time.
- Use fluoride-free toothpaste.
- Brush in gentle circles at a 45 degree angle to clean your gum line.
- Floss with unwaxed floss, to reach between teeth.
- Rinse with mouthwash after meals.
- Avoid sugary foods and sugary drinks. Snacking is a good practice to avoid as well.
- Eat plenty of foods rich in calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
- Oil pull with coconut oil. This a science-backed method of reducing harmful bacteria in your mouth.
- Visit your dentist twice a year. Ask about dental sealants for children under 18 at a high risk for cavities.
Explore Triple Bristle’s dental blog for more tips on how to ensure your oral health stays at 100%.
Oral health is a necessity for a thriving, healthy body. Don’t let cavities or other poor dental health stand in your way!
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