The health of your teeth is key to your overall health. Preventing tooth decay or cavities is one of the most important ways to keep your teeth in good condition and to prevent other complications.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to 30 percentTrusted Source of American adults have untreated dental cavities. Cavities left untreated can destroy your teeth and possibly create more serious issues.
That’s why it helps to know the signs of a tooth cavity and to see your dentist as soon as possible if you think you have one.
What is a cavity?
When food and bacteria build up in your teeth, it can form plaque. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that have the ability to erode the enamel on the surface of your teeth.
Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly can help get rid of the sticky plaque. If the plaque is allowed to build up, it can continue to eat away at your teeth and create cavities.
A cavity forms a hole in your tooth. If left untreated, a cavity can eventually destroy your tooth. An untreated cavity can also create more serious complications, like a tooth abscess or an infection that gets into your bloodstream, which can be life threatening.
Areas in your mouth that may be at a higher risk of developing plaque include:
chewing surfaces of your molars where bits of food can collect in the grooves and crevices
between your teeth
the bottom of your teeth near your gums
Frequently eating foods that tend to cling to your teeth may also increase your risk of a cavity. Some examples of these foods include:
sugary foods like cake, cookies, and gummy candy
Although cavities are more common among children, adults are still at risk — especially as gums begin to recede away from the teeth, which exposes the roots to plaque.
5 possible signs of a cavity
There are several signs that may indicate the beginning of a cavity. There are also a number of red flags that an existing cavity is getting larger.
Here are some of the most common signs you may have a cavity.
1. Hot and cold sensitivity
Sensitivity that lingers after eating hot or cold food could be a sign that you have a cavity.
When the enamel on your tooth starts to wear away, it can affect the dentin, which is the hard tissue layer below the enamel. Dentin contains lots of microscopic little hollow tubes.
When there isn’t enough enamel to protect the dentin, foods that are hot, cold, sticky, or acidic can stimulate the cells and nerve inside your tooth. This is what creates the sensitivity you feel.
2. Lingering sensitivity to sweets
Although hot and cold are the most common sensitivities when you have a cavity, Dr. Inna Chern, DDS, founder of New York General Dentistry, says a lingering sensitivity to sweets and sugary drinks can also point to tooth decay.
Similar to temperature sensitivity, a lingering discomfort from sweets is often a result of damage to the enamel and, more specifically, the start of a cavity.
An ongoing ache in one or more of your teeth can indicate a cavity. In fact, pain is one of the most common symptoms of a cavity.
Sometimes this ache can come on suddenly, or it can happen as a result of something you eat. This includes pain and discomfort in or around your mouth. You may also feel pain and pressure when you bite down on food.
4. Staining on tooth
Stains on your tooth may first appear as white spots. As the tooth decay becomes more advanced, the stain can become darker.
Staining caused by a cavity can be brown, black, or white, and typically appears on the surface of the tooth.
5. A hole or pit in your tooth
If the white spot on your tooth (indicating the start of a cavity) worsens, you will end up with a hole or pit in your tooth that you may be able to see when you look in the mirror or feel when you run your tongue over the surface of your teeth.
Some holes, especially those in between your teeth or in crevices, can’t be seen or felt. But you may still feel pain or sensitivity in the area of the cavity.
If you notice a hole or pit in your tooth, make an appointment to see your dentist. This is a clear sign that you have tooth decay.