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7 Common Signs You Have A Dental Cavity In Houston, TX

What does a cavity look like? Detecting tooth decay and cavities earlier can be smile-saving.

By Jennifer
Photography by Pete

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One of the most common diseases in the world is tooth decay. It’s second only to the common cold. Whether you have amazing brushing and flossing habits or you’ve fallen behind in yours, nearly everyone in the world will get at least one cavity in their lives. The average person will have between four and ten in their lifetime. Once cavities first appear, they can quickly grow out of control until they eventually put your tooth’s life at stake. It’s therefore crucial for your smile to get your teeth looked at by a dentist at the first signs of a dental cavity.

What Is A Cavity?

The terms “tooth decay” and “dental cavities” are often used interchangeably, but they’re not quite the same. What is the difference between tooth decay and a cavity? Decay is a dental disease caused by the acids in dental plaque and oral bacteria gradually eroding and destroying a tooth. It appears only as white spots on the tooth’s enamel surface during the first tooth decay stages. These spots are visible signs that the decay is softening the tooth by stripping it of the hardy minerals—calcium, phosphate, and more—that keep this outer layer strong and protected.

Once the tooth is weakened enough, the decay continues its attack. Eventually, it destroys the enamel to expose the inner dentin below. The decayed hole left behind in the tooth is a dental cavity. Once a cavity appears, the damage is irreversible. Tooth decay will continue to attack the tooth as the cavity worsens and deepens. If left untreated, cavities can destroy enough of the centermost pulp that the tooth dies and must be extracted.

Common Signs You Have A Tooth Cavity

As we’ve already discussed, early-stage tooth decay symptoms include the tooth’s surface becoming softer and developing white patches and spots. Since they are so relatively mild, they can be easy for patients to miss. However, once cavities form, they can be much more difficult for you to ignore. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of dental cavities include:

Pain When Biting

Mealtimes can be painful with a cavity. Putting pressure on your decayed tooth, such as while eating and chewing, can cause sharp spikes of cavity pain. Food can also get stuck in deeper cavities, which won’t be fun either. However, even actions as simple as brushing or flossing your teeth can place enough light pressure on your tooth to be painful.

Lasting Toothache

Not all tooth pain has such a traceable cause. Cavity toothaches can flare up without any pressure or warning, especially once they become severe enough to reach the dental pulp. The pulp is where the tooth’s nerve and blood vessels live. As dental decay eats away at these sensitive tissues, your tooth can become incredibly painful. These toothaches work as an alarm bell for your mouth to tell you something is wrong and you should seek treatment.

Cavity pain can happen in short bursts or stay consistent and linger for hours. Slight twinges of discomfort in your tooth aren’t always a sign of a cavity. However, if your toothache lasts for a day or more, it’s a sign of a real dental emergency. Our dentists will want to see you right away.

If a persistent toothache suddenly disappears and doesn’t return, it’s not quite the relief you might think. A tooth becoming numb is often a sign that too much pulp and nerve have been damaged beyond repair. In these cases, please don’t wait to see our dentists as soon as possible. Quick treatment can mean the difference between a tooth-saving root canal or a tooth extraction.

Staining and Discoloration

Early dental decay causes white enamel spots as the acids in plaque and bacteria demineralize the tooth. However, once a dental cavity develops, the areas around the decay become darker, often turning an unhealthy-looking brown or gray color. Sometimes, the entire tooth may become discolored. While it can look like normal teeth staining, it may instead be a sign of tooth decay.


Cavities can also cause the teeth to become highly sensitive to hot and cold. Dentin and pulp are more sensitive than enamel, and any extreme temperatures can cause sharp and biting pain. Sweets can also cause milder, lingering sensitivity.

Chronic Bad Breath

Bad breath in the mornings or after a garlic-filled meal is normal. However, persistent bad breath that won’t go away, also known as halitosis, can signify several painful dental problems, including dental cavities.

Hole In The Tooth

One of the surest signs of a dental cavity is the appearance of a physical pit in the surface of your tooth. Cavities form once tooth decay breaks through the enamel entirely and exposes the dentin layer below. Most cavities can be seen with the naked eye or even felt by your tongue. However, some are much harder to spot, such as cavities between your teeth or near the gum line.

No Symptoms

Many patients show no signs of cavities at all. They only discover they have them during their regular six-month checkup at their dentist’s office. While no symptoms can be a relief, there’s also a danger to them. Without any warning signs that something’s wrong with their smile, patients’ cavities can continue to grow worse unchecked. By the time their dentist finally gets a look at their smile, dental decay that might have needed a cavity filling may instead require a tooth crown or root canal.

If you happen to experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, please schedule an appointment with us and consult our dentist today.

Can You Stop A Cavity Once It Starts?

If tooth decay is caught before a cavity forms, it can be reversed with healthy dental hygiene and fluoride treatment. Brushing and flossing will remove plaque and bacteria buildup from your smile. Fluoride helps remineralize the tooth, allowing your smile to heal itself fully and bolster its defenses against future damage and decay. However, once tooth decay turns into a cavity, you can’t fix the damage on your own. No amount of brushing or flossing will restore the lost enamel, dentin, or pulp.

You will instead need to see our dentist for professional tooth decay treatment. If left untreated, cavities can progress further into the tooth. While surface-level cavities that only reach the dentin layer might not be too painful, ones that extend into the pulp at the tooth’s center can be excruciating. Eventually, a cavity may cost you your tooth.

Do All Cavities Need Fillings?

All cavities, big or small, need to be filled. However, not every cavity needs a tooth filling. Dental fillings are performed on small cavities that don’t span a wide portion of the tooth’s surface. If our dentist notices a small dental cavity, they will remove the decay and seal the tooth with composite resin. Larger cavities that destroy a more significant part of the tooth need more major treatments like a dental crown or root canal.

Crowns are used to restore the entire tooth’s surface. Rather than composite, they are made of sturdier porcelain or metals like gold that can withstand the full forces of your natural bite. This is especially crucial for back teeth, which take on much more pressure on a daily basis. Root canals are needed once decay reaches the tooth’s central pulp layer, and they can involve clearing out an entire tooth’s root. Depending on the damage’s extent, either a filling or crown will cap and reinforce the tooth.

How Can You Prevent Cavities?

The answer is simple: proper dental hygiene. The most important thing you can do for your smile is keep your pearly whites clean and plaque-free. To prevent cavities, make sure you:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed.
  • Use fluoride products like toothpaste, mouthwash, and water to strengthen your teeth against decay.
  • Floss your teeth daily.
  • Modify your diet and limit the amount of sugary and starchy foods you eat.
  • Schedule regular dental cleanings at least once every six months.

Do you think you might have a dental cavity? The Nu Dentistry team is here to help! Please don’t hesitate to give our dental office a call and schedule an appointment with us immediately.

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