Cavities are pretty common. As the National Institutes of Health points out, the only condition more common than cavities and tooth decay is the common cold. If you've never experienced tooth decay, you might wonder, "What does a cavity feel like?" The answer depends on the stage of the decay and what foods you eat. Some foods, such as sweets, might trigger the pain of a cavity more than others.
How Cavities Form
Your mouth is naturally full of bacteria. Some of that bacteria is perfectly healthy; some of it can be harmful. When you eat something sugary, such as candy or even potato chips, or drink a sugary beverage, the bacteria feeds on the sugars in the substance. It then produces acid, which is strong enough to wear away the enamel of the tooth, if not cleaned off quickly enough. In the end, a dental cavity begins to form.
In the early stages, a cavity can be reversed, as the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research notes. Brushing your teeth with a toothpaste that contains fluoride can help restore the enamel and reverse the effects of tooth decay.
Signs of a Cavity
What does a cavity feel like? In the earliest stages, the answer might be nothing. There are no nerves in your tooth's enamel, so when the decay is in that layer, it's likely that you won't feel a thing. Once the decay has progressed enough to reach the softer tissues inside the tooth, where the dentin and nerves are, you might notice signs of a cavity. Your teeth might feel sensitive and you might feel some pain, especially after eating sweets, hot foods or cold foods. The pain might be fairly mild or it might be sharp and intense. Some people also feel pain when they bite down when they have a cavity.
Depending on the size of the cavity, you may be able to see evidence of it in your mouth. Cavities sometimes create visible holes in the teeth. They might also create stains that are black, brown or white on the surface of the tooth.
Cavities and Sweets
Why are you more likely to feel pain from a cavity when you eat sweets? Some foods, including sweets, are more likely to cause pain when there is enamel erosion. Sweet foods tend to be sticky, so they are more likely to cling to your teeth. The bacteria that feed on them can then produce more acid, which can make its way into the cavity, irritating the nerves. Even if you don't have a cavity, if you have sensitive teeth, you are likely to feel more sensation when you eat sugary foods.
Seeing Your Dentist
What should you do if you think you have a cavity? The first step is to see your dentist. Although cavities can be reversed in the early stages, by the time you are feeling discomfort or pain, only a dentist can treat them. An x-ray will be taken to determine how the cavity has progressed into the tooth. Depending on how severe the cavity is, you might need a filling to fix it. If the decay is very severe, the dentist might replace the tooth with a crown or perform a root canal.
Even if you're not sure if you have a cavity, regular professional cleaning and dental visits are important. A dental hygienist can apply a fluoride treatment to help strengthen the teeth and reverse the very early stages of decay. He or she can also give you tips on the best ways to brush your teeth and advise you about what foods to avoid or consume less frequently to reduce your risk for cavities. As with many conditions, when it comes to cavities, taking preventative steps is a lot easier than treating the problem down the road.