Blog Hero

What Does a Cavity Look Like?

Book Appointment
A woman suffering from a toothache holds her right cheek with her right hand.

Dental cavities are one of the most common dental problems. A cavity is a hole in the tooth caused by acid-producing bacteria that gradually eat away at the tooth’s enamel. While plenty of dental issues can arise, cavities tend to be one of the most worrisome for people. One reason may be that people don’t always know what to look for when identifying cavities.

Not all cavities can be detected with the naked eye, but if you see signs of holes, dark spots, or pitting in the tooth, they may be signs of a cavity.

Cleanings and dental exams every 6 months can help your dental team identify signs of plaque and tartar buildup that leave you at risk for cavities and remove the harmful substance from your teeth’s surface. 

What Do Cavities Look Like?

One of the telltale signs that you have a cavity is the presence of a dark spot on your tooth. This spot may look brown, black, or gray and is usually found in pits or grooves of molars or in-between teeth.

As a cavity progresses, it can cause tooth discoloration, chips, and fractures. In severe cases, a deep cavity can even lead to an abscess. Keep in mind that not all cavities will show visible signs. Some may only be detectable with dental X-rays, so attending routine preventative dental appointments is essential. 

Other Signs You May Have a Cavity

Not all cavities are visible without the help of your dental team. Other symptoms may indicate the presence of a cavity and that you should seek dental care.

Toothache or Pain

One of the most common signs of a cavity is a toothache or pain. This pain may be on a scale of mild or severe and can last for a few seconds or a few minutes. If left untreated, the pain may become constant and unbearable. Not all toothaches or pains are a sign of a cavity, but when it persists, getting checked out by your dentist is a good idea.

Sensitivity to Hot & Cold

If you experience sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, it could indicate a cavity. When the damage to the tooth is deep into the centre of the tooth, the nerves can become exposed, leaving them vulnerable to heightened sensitivity.

This sensitivity may come on suddenly when you eat or drink something hot or cold, lasting for several seconds. It’s usually felt in one tooth or a set of teeth and may be accompanied by discomfort or pain.

Swelling or Pus

In advanced stages of a cavity, you may experience swelling or pus in the affected area. This can be a sign that the infection has spread to the surrounding tissues and is developing into an abscess that requires immediate attention from your dentist.

Other signs of an infection may include:

  • Bad breath
  • Intense tooth pain
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Pain in the jaw, ears, or gums
  • A vague but constant ache

Holes or Pits in Teeth

Another sign that you may have a cavity is the presence of holes or pits in your teeth. These holes can range in size and severity and may be visible to the naked eye or detected by your dentist during a routine check-up.

Fillings are typically required to fix the holes and prevent the cavity from growing in size and severity.

Dark Spots or Discoloration

Dark spots or discoloration on your teeth, particularly around the edges, can signify a cavity. These spots may be brown, black or white and may indicate decay occurring beneath the surface of your teeth. If you notice any discoloration or spots on your teeth, it’s best to get them checked out by your dentist to ensure they are not a sign of a cavity.

What Causes Cavities?

Cavities form due to a combination of factors, including:

  • Bacteria
  • Acid
  • Food particles
  • Saliva
  • Poor oral hygiene

When bacteria in the mouth mix with food particles and saliva, it creates plaque buildup. If plaque isn’t removed from the teeth through daily brushing and flossing, it begins to break down the tooth’s enamel, resulting in a cavity and tooth decay.

Anyone can develop a cavity. However, you’re at greater risk of having cavities under certain conditions, including the following:

  • Eating or drinking too many acidic or sugary foods and drinks
  • Not getting enough fluoride
  • Dry mouth
  • Acid reflux or gut problems
A man wearing a blue shirt with a toothbrush in his mouth smiling as he cleans his teeth.

Ways to Prevent Cavities

Thankfully, there are various ways to prevent cavities from forming. The most important? Be vigilant about your oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, and attend regular check-ups with your dentist.

Limiting sugary or junk food intake can also reduce your cavity risk. Another prevention strategy is to use fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash. Fluoride helps strengthen the tooth enamel, making it less susceptible to acid attacks.

What to Do If You Think You Have a Cavity

If you notice any signs of tooth decay, such as discoloration or a hole in your tooth, contact your dentist as soon as possible. Early treatment can often prevent further decay and keep the cavity from progressing.

During your appointment, your dentist will evaluate the tooth, possibly take an x-ray, and recommend the appropriate course of treatment. Treatment options may include a dental filling, crown, or in some cases, a root canal.

Prevent Cavities with Regular Dental Visits

It’s important to note that cavities are common but also preventable. Taking proper care of your teeth and maintaining good oral hygiene habits can reduce your risk of developing cavities and other dental issues.

Schedule a visit to Palermo Village Dental every 6 months and seek treatment promptly if you notice any signs of tooth decay. With some preventative care, you can help keep your smile healthy and bright for years to come.

Written by Dr. Christopher Blair

Dr. Christopher Blair completed his Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree at the University of Toronto. He is an avid cyclist and has often combined his passion for cycling with charitable endeavours. Most notably, Dr. Blair is passionate about his efforts to raise funds to support kids living with cancer and who are cancer survivors. Through his participation in Tour for Kids, Dr. Blair has raised thousands of dollars to support Camp Trillium, Camp Quality, and Camp Oochegeas, 3 camps in the Toronto area that support kids living with cancer.

More Articles By Dr. Christopher Blair
instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax