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Watch Out for These Signs of a Cavity

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You bit down and feel a slight twinge in your mouth. Should you wait and hope it goes away or make an appointment with your dentist?

Signs of a cavity, such as sensitivity in your teeth or even outright pain, indicate that it’s time to get your teeth professionally checked. Learn which signs to watch out for and why maintaining reglar dental visits and practicing preventive care is key to your health – and wallet.

Cavity Prevention Benefits Your Health and Budgets

Statistically, if you haven't already, you're likely going to have to deal with a cavity at some point. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while cavities are preventable, 9 out of 10 adults over age 20 have some degree of tooth decay.

Cavities are decayed areas (tiny areas or holes) in your teeth that result from bacteria buildup and harmful acids in the mouth. Unfortunately, they are permanent, according to the Mayo Clinic. They can also go undetected at first, as early-stage decay may not produce any symptoms.    

Luckily, cavities are treatable, and catching one early is good for not only your health and comfort but for your pocketbook, too.  If your dentist is able to detect and treat your cavity before it progresses too far, you can avoid more complicated and costly treatments.

Types of Cavities

As the Mayo Clinic outlines, there are three types of cavities:

  • Smooth surface cavities that form on the sides of your teeth
  • Root cavities that develop on the roots of your teeth
  • Pit and fissure cavities that occur on the chewing surfaces of teeth

The ADA states that it's common for people over age 50 to have some tooth-root decay. In addition, there is also a high prevalence of cavities among children.

Signs of a Cavity

Though it's common for people to feel some amount of pain from a cavity, other visual and sensory factors can also help you determine if a cavity has begun to form. Common symptoms of decay, according to the Mayo Clinic, may include:

  • Discoloration on your tooth that is black, brown or white
  • Unpleasant sensations, such as a sharp pain, twinges or a dull toothache
  • Pain when biting down or eating
  • A hole in the tooth, even if it doesn't have any discoloration or cause pain
  • Tooth sensitivity to heat or cold

How and When to Treat a Cavity

Even before you suspect that you have a cavity, you'll want to maintain regular dental visits every six months. Your dental professional (dentist and dental hygienist) not only cleans your mouth, but monitors any oral problem that can occur, from tooth decay to screening for oral cancer, notes the Cleveland Clinic.

If you do have a cavity, you cannot treat the condition on your own, and putting it off will only allow the decay to worsen. The earlier you see your dentist, the more likely it is that they can catch a cavity in an early stage, which may be easier and less costly to treat. Your dentist is your partner in oral care, so make an appointment with them as soon as possible for an assessment if you believe you have cavity symptoms.

The Mayo Clinic explains that to treat a cavity, your dentist will assess your mouth, pain level and possibly take X-rays. Early-stage cavities may even be fixed with a simple fluoride treatment. However, more invasive treatments may be necessary if the cavity has progressed. Your dentist may need to treat your cavity with a filling, crown or even a root canal or extraction if the decay has advanced.

Being proactive and catching a cavity early is the best way to stop the decay from worsening — and a timely appointment with your dentist can make all the difference.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.