Cavities, also known as tooth decay or dental caries, are one of the most common dental problems people in the United States face today. In fact, cavities are the second most common disease in the United States, after the common cold.
Fortunately, you can detect signs of a developing tooth cavity long before you can see the decay or experience tooth cavity pain if you know what to look for.
How Cavities Form
Cavities, also called dental caries, develop when bacteria, food particles, acid, and saliva combine in your mouth to create plaque, which sticks to your teeth and builds up over time. The bacteria in plaque feed on sugars and create acid as a byproduct. This acid then erodes the tooth’s tough enamel layer, eventually causing the holes associated with cavities.
Common Signs of a Cavity
What does a cavity look like? If your cavity is visible, it will appear like a brown or black spot or small hole. Cavities are often present before you can see them, so knowing the signs of a cavity can help you take action to stop the decay. You may be developing a tooth cavity if you have one or more of the following symptoms:
Many people have sensitive teeth, which means they feel pain when they eat hot or cold foods, or when air passes over their teeth. Tooth sensitivity is a common and uncomfortable problem that affects about 40 million Americans.
How can you tell if your teeth are just sensitive or if you have a cavity? Harmless tooth sensitivity usually affects several teeth at once. If you have sensitivity in just one tooth this may be a sign of a developing a cavity on your tooth. Cavities cause tooth sensitivity because as they develop, they damage and erode your enamel. In time, the erosion exposes the tooth’s layer of dentin, which is very sensitive to temperature and pressure.
The same bacteria that causes tooth decay and cavities can also cause bad breath. If you are noticing bad breath even after brushing your teeth, you may have a cavity. As the cavity erodes the enamel, this creates areas for bacteria that cause bad breath to hide. As tooth decay progresses to the soft tissues inside the tooth and begins to decay those tissues, bad breath can worsen.
Cavities are one of the most common causes of toothaches. The pain from a toothache is the result of inflammation in the central part of the tooth, known as the pulp, which contains nerve endings that are very sensitive to pain. As cavities erode your enamel and expose the tooth’s dentin, these nerve endings will become more sensitive. You may notice a toothache caused by a cavity especially:
- After eating or drinking —Hot or cold foods and beverages can bother the sensitive nerves exposed by the cavity.
- After eating sweets – When you eat sweets, the bacteria from the cavity thrive and produce greater amounts of acid that wears away tooth enamel.
Visible Dark Spots or Holes
One of the most recognizable signs of a cavity is the appearance of dark spots or hole. Often times, you’ll see a visible black or dark brown spot before you see a hole. These dark spots appear when bacteria enter through the crevices created by tooth decay. As the tooth decay progresses and more enamel is destroyed, the spot will become larger and develop into a hole.
Pain When Biting Down
Tooth pain is never normal and may be a sign of a cavity. This is especially true if accompanied by any of the other symptoms of a cavity, like bad breath or visible holes. You may experience tooth cavity pain when chewing or biting down, especially if the cavity is in the back of your mouth on your molars.
If you are suffering from a combination of these symptoms, but still aren’t sure if you have a cavity, see your dentist. They’ll be able to give a visual and x-ray exam to check for signs of tooth decay, gum disease, and cavities.
Williams & Daily Dental is a family and cosmetic dentist located in North Raleigh, NC with a team of dedicated dentists enthusiastic in their commitment to their patients. Contact Williams & Daily at (919) 846-9070 for more information and to schedule an appointment today.