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Do You Know When You Have a Cavity?

March 12, 2018

Few people make it through life without at least one cavity. Cavities are the result of tooth decay, and everyone is at some risk. Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize your risk.

You Can’t Help Eating and Drinking — Which Can Lead to Cavities

Here’s the thing: everyone has natural bacteria that lives in their mouth. When you consume sugary and starchy food and drink, such as bread, cereal, fruit, cake, candy, milk or soda, those carbohydrates can stay on your teeth and interact with the bacteria to become acids. Together the bacteria, acid, food particles, and your saliva form a sticky film of plaque, which clings to your teeth and starts an attack.

Over time, this acidic plaque can break down your enamel, which is the hard, outer layer of your teeth. The enamel dissolves, creating a little hole or fissure in your tooth, which is called a cavity.

How to Tell If You Have a Cavity

Your dentist is usually the first to discover you have a cavity when you go for a routine visit. A dentist has the expertise and special tools to probe for cavities, including X-rays that can reveal them in hard-to-see places. This is why you should schedule regular checkups twice a year. But if you don’t, or your teeth are vulnerable to decay, you might notice symptoms that tip you off first.

What Does a Cavity Feel Like?

Your tooth enamel doesn’t have any nerve endings, so if the decay is just on the surface you might not feel anything. If the damage gets down through the enamel, deeper into the inner layer or dentin, you’re more likely to:

  • Feel a toothache or feel pain when eating, drinking or biting down
  • Feel sensitivity to hot, cold or sweet food and drinks
  • Develop a bad taste in your mouth, or bad breath
  • Feel the hole or crack in your tooth with your tongue
What Does a Cavity Look Like?

Sometimes when you have a cavity, especially if it’s been growing a long time without treatment, you’ll be able to see it. You’ll know it’s time to visit your dentist if you can:

  • See a hole or pit in your tooth
  • See spots or discoloration, such as a stain that is brown, black or white
Your Dentist Can Help You Treat and Prevent Cavities

In some cases, cavities can be caught in the early stages by maintaining good oral health. This includes seeing a dentist regularly, following their advice and using a fluoride toothpaste or rinse.

By the time you can feel discomfort or pain, though, you'll need a dentist to treat you — which probably means getting a filling or other dental procedure they may recommend. And it's important to take care of a cavity as soon as it's discovered so the decay doesn't get worse, potentially leading to more pain, the need for a root canal procedure or even loss of your tooth.

Finally, remember it’s not all up to your dentist. You can help prevent tooth decay when you:

  • Brush twice a day, or better yet after every meal, with fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss or clean between your teeth at least once a day
  • Limit how often you indulge in sweets and between-meal snacks
  • Visit your dentist regularly for routine exams, cleanings and X-rays

You can also enroll in a dental plan that covers your routine diagnostic and preventive services. You’re more likely to schedule those regular dentist visits if you have benefits through a dental plan.

The key thing is to take care of your teeth throughout your life. And help keep your smile beautiful and healthy.