How To Tell If You Have a Cavity: 5 Signs That You May Have A Cavity

While good oral health and regular dental visits can help prevent cavities, they can still happen. Some people don’t even notice cavity symptoms right away until they see their dentist and learn that they need a filling.

What is a cavity?

A cavity is a small hole in a tooth on the hard, outer layer called the enamel. They are the result of tooth decay over time. When food gets stuck in your teeth, it promotes plaque. Plaque is a sticky substance full of bacteria that promotes cavities. When you eat sugary foods, the plaque-causing bacteria in your mouth take that sugar and make it into acid. The acid then breaks down your tooth enamel over time and the sticky plaque keeps the acid in contact with your teeth.

What are the signs and symptoms of a cavity?

There are a variety of cavity symptoms including, but not limited to:

Tooth sensitivity

Does tooth sensitivity mean you have a cavity? Not always. It’s common for people with cavities to have issues with hot, cold, and sugary foods. This can feel like a mild pain in one tooth or area of your teeth. Try brushing your teeth with a special toothpaste made for sensitive teeth. If that doesn’t help the sensitivity, you may have a cavity.

Bad breath

Cavities are caused by bacteria, that bacteria may create bad breath. However, this is a sign that the cavity has gone untreated for a long time and the tooth is starting to decay. The bacteria in your mouth feed on food particles and brushing and flossing helps keep this bacteria at bay. If you have bad breath caused by a cavity, it means that the bad breath is persistent and doesn’t go away with regular brushing and flossing.

Cracked tooth

Some cracked teeth can be caused by accidents or extremely hard foods. They can also be caused by cavities because the bacteria that create them weaken your tooth enamel in the process. Your tooth is then more vulnerable when you’re chewing crunchy foods. If you do crack a tooth, make a dentist appointment immediately and avoid chewing on that side of your mouth until your dentist can fix your tooth.

Dark spots or tiny holes in the side of a tooth

Sometimes a dark spot can just be a natural stain. If the spot is sticky, this could mean that it’s a growing cavity. If you have a slight pain when you’re eating, check for tiny holes in the tooth. A hole in your tooth is most likely a sign that the bacteria in your mouth has created a cavity. If your dark spots or holes are visible on your tooth, this means the cavity has gone untreated for a while and you should see a dentist right away.


Especially when you bite into food with your damaged tooth, you may experience a toothache. This means the cavity has reached a nerve in your tooth that is causing the pain or the tooth is infected. If you’re experiencing severe toothaches, make an appointment to see your dentist.

How do you prevent cavities?

The best way to prevent cavities is to promote good oral health by brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Here are some other tips to help you maintain good oral health and prevent cavities from forming:

  • Brush your teeth after you eat and drink something that isn’t water. Carry a portable toothbrush with you so you don’t forget to brush after you eat.
  • Avoid sugary and sticky foods. These can stick to your teeth longer and attract more cavity-causing bacteria. Especially limit the amount of Halloween candy you eat.
  • Use mouthwash to rinse out extra food residue.
  • Chew sugar-free, ADA-approved gum. This will promote saliva in your mouth that washes out the bad bacteria.
  • Drink lots of water. Water helps wash out extra food residue and, as opposed to sugary drinks, doesn’t add more cavity producing sugar. Some tap water also has fluoride in it that helps strengthen teeth against cavities.
  • Eat foods that promote good oral health like leafy greens, fresh fruit, and dairy products.

Be sure to visit your dentist regularly to check-up on your oral health and stop cavities from forming. Contact the office of Daniel J. Derksen, DDS, PLLC to set up an appointment for a dental check-up or if you think you may have a cavity.

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