All posts | February 20, 2024

What Does a Cavity Feel Like?

by Dr. Liel Grinbaum

Cavities are one of the most common oral health issues, affecting people of all ages. But what exactly does a cavity feel like? Understanding the symptoms of tooth decay can help you catch cavities early and prevent more serious dental problems. At Smiles+Grins, we're passionate about helping our patients maintain healthy, beautiful smiles. Here's what you need to know about identifying and treating cavities.

What is a Cavity?

A cavity is a small hole that develops in a tooth due to decay. This occurs when bacteria in your mouth produce acid that erodes the tooth enamel layer over time. Cavities can form on any surface of a tooth but are most common in the grooves and crevices of molars.

Tooth decay is a gradual process that occurs in stages. Initially, the acid produced by bacteria weakens and softens the enamel, creating a pre-cavity. If left untreated, the decay will progress through the enamel (the outer layer of your teeth) and into the dentin layer underneath. Advanced cavities can reach the pulp, the innermost part of the tooth containing nerves and blood vessels.

Symptoms of a Cavity

In the early stages, cavities may not cause any noticeable symptoms. As the decay progresses, however, you may experience these cavity symptoms:

1. Tooth Sensitivity

If you feel a sharp pain or twinge when consuming hot, cold, sweet or acidic foods and beverages, you may have a cavity. This sensitivity occurs because the decay has penetrated the tooth enamel and is starting to affect the dentin layer underneath. The dentin contains tiny tubules that lead to the nerve center of the tooth, causing sensitivity when exposed. This is typically the first warning sign of a cavity. Although, some children have sensitive teeth without cavities.

2. Toothache

A persistent or recurring toothache is another common sign of a cavity, especially if the pain worsens when you bite down or apply pressure to the affected tooth. The tooth pain may be more noticeable when chewing on the affected side of the mouth, but usually starts as minor discomfort or a dull ache. As the cavity deepens, the pain may become more severe and constant.

3. Visible Holes or Pits

In some cases, you may be able to see a cavity on your tooth. It may look like a dark spot or a visible hole or pit in the enamel. The discoloration can range from white to brown or black. Keep in mind that cavities can also develop between teeth or in hard-to-see areas, so regular dental checkups are important. Your dentist can detect cavities through visual examination, dental x-rays, and special tools that check for softened enamel.

4. Bad Breath or Unpleasant Taste

If you have a cavity, bacteria can accumulate inside the hole and cause persistent bad breath, dry mouth, or a lingering unpleasant taste in your mouth. Brushing and flossing may not fully eliminate the odor or taste. The bacteria feed on food particles and produce foul-smelling waste products.

Treating Cavities

When a cavity is detected, prompt treatment is essential to prevent further decay and protect the affected tooth. The specific treatment approach will depend on the extent of the cavity and the degree of damage to the tooth structure.

Cavity treatment options may include:

  • Fluoride treatments to remineralize tooth enamel in the very early stages of decay. This option is typically only effective for pre-cavities and not for fully developed cavities.
  • Fillings to repair small to medium-sized cavities. The decayed portion of the tooth is removed and replaced with a filling material, such as composite resin or amalgam.
  • Crowns to restore extensively decayed teeth. If a cavity is large and has weakened the tooth structure, a crown may be necessary to protect and strengthen the remaining tooth.
  • Root canal therapy if the decay has reached the tooth pulp. This procedure involves removing the infected pulp, cleaning the root canals and sealing the tooth to prevent further infection.

At Smiles+Grins, our expert team uses the latest technology and techniques to diagnose and treat cavities while ensuring your comfort. We offer a range of restorative options to meet your needs and budget.

Preventing Cavities

The best way to deal with cavities is to prevent them from developing in the first place. To keep your teeth healthy and cavity-free:

  1. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Use a soft-bristled brush and gentle circular motions to clean all surfaces of your teeth. Be sure to brush for at least two minutes each time to thoroughly remove plaque and oral bacteria.
  2. Floss daily to remove plaque and food particles between teeth. Slide the floss up and down against each tooth, curving it around the base to clean beneath the gumline. If you find traditional flossing difficult, consider using floss picks or interdental brushes to make the task easier.
  3. Limit sugary foods and acidic foods and drinks. When you do acidic and sweet foods, rinse your mouth with water afterward to neutralize the acid. Snacking on starchy foods like raw vegetables, like carrots or celery, can also help stimulate saliva flow and naturally clean your teeth.
  4. See your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. Professional exams can detect cavities in their earliest stages, and cleanings remove tartar buildup that contributes to decay. Most dental professionals recommend regular checkups every six months, but some people may need more frequent checkups depending on their oral health needs.

Remember, prevention is key when it comes to maintaining a healthy, cavity-free smile. By adopting good oral hygiene habits and making smart dietary choices, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing cavities.

Think Your Child Has a Cavity?

If your child is experiencing any signs or symptoms of a cavity, don't wait - contact Smiles+Grins today to schedule an appointment. Our team is committed to providing expert, personalized care in a welcoming, pressure-free environment. Let us help you achieve and maintain a healthy, beautiful smile!


Can a cavity go away on its own?

No, cavities do not go away without professional treatment. Once a cavity forms, the decay will continue to progress and can eventually lead to tooth loss if left untreated. Early intervention is key to preserving the health of your tooth and stop the tooth decay process.

How long does it take for a cavity to form?

Cavities develop gradually over time, usually several months to a few years. The speed at which a cavity forms depends on factors like oral hygiene habits, diet and genetics. Consistent dental care and a balanced diet can slow the progression of decay.

Are cavities more common in certain teeth?

Yes, cavities are most common in the back teeth (molars and premolars) because these teeth have more grooves and crevices on the chewing surface where bacteria can accumulate. However, cavities can develop on any tooth surface, including between teeth and near the gumline.

Can I treat a cavity at home?

No, cavities require professional dental treatment. At-home remedies like oil pulling, saltwater rinses or applying clove oil may provide temporary relief from symptoms but will not stop the progression of decay. Attempting to treat a cavity yourself can lead to further damage, infection, and more cavity pain. Only dentists can provide remedies for cavities.

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