How to Know When You Have a Cavity


One of the most common health care issues is tooth decay, also called cavities or caries. A cavity is a permanent form of damage that can happen to the enamel of your teeth, creating an opening in the protective outer layer of your teeth.

There are several different factors that can cause cavities to form. Some of the most common factors include:

  • Consuming too many sugary drinks and foods
  • Practicing poor oral hygiene
  • A build-up of bacteria on tooth and gums
  • Genetic predisposition

No matter how a cavity comes to be, it is essential that you address it quickly to prevent worse problems down the road. To help you identify if you have a cavity, your local dentists in Billings, MT, want to share the signs that indicate you have a cavity.

Signs That You Have a Cavity

If tooth decay is just beginning to form on your teeth, you may not experience any cavity symptoms whatsoever, making it difficult to know if you have a cavity. However, as a cavity begins to develop more, there are some clear signs and symptoms.

Persistent Bad Breath

One of the factors that cause chronic bad breath is cavities. Tooth decay allows bacteria to spread in your mouth and even infect other healthy teeth. This infection will eventually cause you to suffer from bad breath.

If you are diligent about good oral hygiene, yet you start to have really bad breath, you may have one or more cavities developing.

Pain When Biting Down

When the surfaces of your teeth are compromised with a cavity, you can experience pain when biting down. Sometimes that pain is localized to a particular spot, such as left side hurts when biting, which can indicate that’s where the cavity is located.

In some cases, the pain can come as a stabbing feeling whenever you chew. As the cavity progresses, the pain can be felt even when you’re not chewing.

Dental Sensitivity

If your teeth start to become very sensitive all of a sudden, this is a common symptom of cavities. As the enamel of the top layer decays, the lower layer of dentin is also affected, and the nerves in your teeth have less to protect them. This leads to sensitivity to:

  • Hot and cold temperatures – Could be a sign of cavities, gum recession or an early sign of decay known as reversible pulpitis
  • Sugar and sweet foods and drinks – The most common sign of cavities, resulting in suffering from slightly painful tingling sensation when consuming sugary foods.

Unexplained Pain

Tooth pain caused by cavities usually begins with self-triggered tingling sensations. This pain can also be a sign of irreversible pulpitis, which is a serious cavity issue.

But, when you start to feel non-triggered tooth pain, an irritant or bacteria may have actually caused damage to the nerves, which may be beginning to die. This pain can spread from a single tooth to one side of your gums, becoming inflamed and painful.

Hole or Pit on Tooth

If you see either a hole or pit in your tooth, this is the most guaranteed sign that you have tooth decay. While you still need a dental x-ray to be sure, a hole in your teeth most likely means that the tooth’s enamel has become eroded.

Also, if the cavity is able to progress, it can cause your tooth to fracture and crack completely, splintering your tooth.

Tooth Discoloration

Teeth are naturally a bit yellow and can become discolored over time. However, dental discoloration tends to be fairly evenly distributed. If you have a spot where a tooth is significantly discolored—dark yellow, brown, or black—you likely have a cavity there.

Once you have a cavity, the only way to correct it is with a dental filling from our dentists. The sooner the filling is in place, tooth decay can be halted, and prevent more serious consequences such as abscesses, infected tooth pulp, and tooth loss.

How To Prevent Cavities

You have likely heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Well, in the case of your dental health, that old saying is doubly true, as a dental filling—while helpful in halting the spread of the decay—is not as good as healthy and intact enamel. So, if you are looking to prevent future cavities, try these things:

  • Preventative dental care – To ensure that your teeth are in good shape, it is recommended to come in for preventative dental cleanings twice a year. That way, any built-up plaque, and calcium can be cleaned off your teeth and cavities detected early on.
  • Twice a day brushing – Brushing your teeth at least twice a day—once in the morning and once in the evening—with a soft-bristle toothbrush can do a lot to keep you cavity-free. Add in some fluoride toothpaste to increase your tooth enamel’s defenses, and you will have an easier time fighting off cavities.
  • Floss daily – To help remove any food particles between your teeth, be sure that you floss once a day. Flossing in the evenings can help ensure that you don’t go to sleep with something still stuck in your teeth.
  • Reduce sugar consumption – The bacteria that cause tooth decay love sugar. To decrease the damage caused by this type of bacteria, it is best that you reduce your sugar consumption.
  • Hydrate – Having a dry mouth can cause tooth decay to accelerate. Water is best to hydrate yourself with, particularly water with fluoride, which most public (tap water) water comes enriched with already. So, if you filter your water or drink primarily bottled water, be sure your toothpaste has fluoride in it to help support your teeth.
  • Chew xylitol gum – Made with a sweetener that bacteria can’t digest, the harmful bacteria in your mouth tend to die off as you eat xylitol gum.

To set up an appointment to take care of your biannual dental cleaning and to check for cavities, please contact us today!

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