Tooth pain and sensitivity aren’t the only symptoms of cavities. Active tooth decay can present itself in a variety of ways. Knowing the symptoms of decay ahead of time will help you recognize the warning signs as early as possible. After all, the sooner you address a cavity, the more conservative the treatment will be. Understanding the symptoms could mean the difference between a small filling and requiring something more complex, like a crown or root canal.  

6 Tooth Decay Signs

Tooth Sensitivity or Pain When You Bite Down

Do you notice a twinge or throbbing sensation when you bite down? Even though you might not be able to tell exactly which tooth it’s coming from, you may be able to figure out what part of your mouth the cavity is located in. 

Floss or Food Getting Stuck in Your Tooth

Cavities between your teeth or on the chewing surfaces are prone to trapping food during meals. If you find that you need to floss or use a toothpick every time you eat, there could either be a cavity or some other type of opening that shouldn’t be there (possibly due to gum disease or recession.) 

If you notice that flossing the area causes your floss to shred or get stuck, that’s another sign something is wrong. A smooth, healthy tooth won’t cause floss to shred. But if there’s a cavity or something else that needs attention, the floss can potentially get caught. 

A Rough Edge You Can Feel with Your Tongue

Since decay creates holes or pits in your teeth, it frequently has a rough edge around the widening cavity. Depending on where the cavity is located and if you’re able to run your tongue over it, you’ll probably feel a rough area or sharp edge that stands out from other parts of your mouth. Your tongue can almost always tell when something is out of sorts, even if it’s by just a millimetre. 

Sweet, Hot or Cold Sensitivity

If there’s a sure-fire way of knowing that you have a cavity, it’s usually sweet sensitivity. Eating something sweet or drinking something with natural or artificial sweeteners in it will be enough to set your tooth off. Cavities are usually the only oral health condition that is hypersensitive to sweet foods and drinks. So if you notice this common sign, don’t ignore it. Go ahead and plan to make a dental appointment within the next week.  Sensitivity to hot or cold can be another one of the common signs of a cavity.

Something Feeling “Off”

Sometimes the only cavity symptom is one you can’t quite put your finger on. Maybe there’s a strange sensation when you’re eating or you notice an occasional twinge that normally isn’t there. Your mouth is highly sensitive and aware of what’s going on. If there’s active tooth decay, your body will probably pick up on the warning signs before you ever realize there’s a problem. 

Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Bacteria spreads and penetrates your tooth as decay continues to occur, leading to bad breath (also called halitosis). The same bacteria in your mouth that causes bad breath can be the same that causes cavities.

If enough bacteria have accumulated to cause a cavity, it’s very possible to have bad breath. When you’re brushing your teeth and tongue, you might notice it. It is also likely that you will have a bad taste in your mouth.

Visit your dentist if you have halitosis because the cause, as previously mentioned, could be because you have a cavity. The sooner you address it, the sooner you can fix it and the less money it will cost you for your dental treatment.

Can a cavity go away on its own?

Once an actual hole (cavity) forms in your tooth, there’s no way for it to go away on its own. Nor are there DIY or at-home remedies you can use to repair a cavity on your own. The physical opening needs to be cleaned out and filled by a dentist to prevent the decay from spreading any further. 

However, if you catch the first stage of decay early enough, where the outermost layer of the tooth enamel is only starting to demineralize, it is possible to stop and reverse the process. Demineralized enamel is slightly weaker, but if you reverse the erosion you can prevent the cavity from creating a “hole” in your tooth or getting any worse. It’s common to see some visible white lesions (or “white spots”) on your tooth after the fact. These areas are more common along the gums or around orthodontic brackets. They’re typically caused by a lack of good oral hygiene and then a sudden re-vamped brushing and flossing routine. 

Can you feel a cavity with your tongue?

Sometimes. It depends on where the cavity is located. Larger cavities can almost always be felt with your tongue, because of how much space they take up. Smaller to moderate areas of decay may be tucked away where your tongue can’t feel them at all. 

Your tongue is extremely sensitive. So if you do feel something atypical from the rest of your mouth, be sure to let us know. It could be a cavity, cracked tooth, or even an older filling that’s starting to give out. 

What does a cavity look like?

Not all cavities are visible to the naked eye. If you can see a cavity in your mouth, it’s usually dark brown or black. Common places to see them are on the chewing surfaces of back teeth or along the gumlines. But cavities can also form between the teeth, making them impossible to see when you’re looking in a mirror. 

If we were to take X-rays of your teeth, the areas where the teeth are touching side-by-side would have a dark shadow where the area of decay is forming. Cavities can also form at the bottom of the deep grooves and pits on your chewing surfaces, but may only be visible on an X-ray if the opening is extremely small. 

Once a cavity has become noticeably visible on your teeth, it has likely reached a more aggressive stage and is at risk of damaging the nerve. 

How do you know if a cavity has reached the nerve?

A dental X-ray allows us to see approximately how deep an area of tooth decay has made it into your tooth. However, if you’re looking at the tooth from the outside and there is an obviously large cavity, it’s already likely that the bacteria have reached the nerve tissues. 

Dental abscesses are a common side-effect of cavities that have infected the nerve. The small pimple-like sores (called fistulas) that form around the root and drain out the side of your gum tissues are a result of swelling and fluid buildup. 

Treat Tooth Decay Early

Think you have a cavity? Is there a visible hole in your tooth? Suffering from tooth pain? Make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Contact us today to request an exam. 

Resources related to how to tell if you have a cavity

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