Wondering if that tooth pain or sensitivity you feel is a cavity? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a whopping 90 percent of U.S. adults have had a cavity, so it's a pretty common problem. If you're one of the lucky few who has never experienced tooth decay, you're probably curious about what a cavity feels like. The answer depends on the stage of decay. Read on to learn what cavities feel like and what you should do if you start to feel cavity pain.
How to Tell If You Have a Cavity
Cavities, also known as dental caries, form when the bacteria in plaque feed off the sugar from foods you eat and release acid. When not cleaned off quickly enough, this acid is strong enough to wear away your tooth's enamel. Because there are no nerves in the enamel, you probably won't be able to feel the cavity forming in the early stages of tooth decay. Once the decay progresses to reach the softer tissues inside the tooth where the dentin and nerves live, you might notice these signs of a cavity:
- Tooth pain or sensitivity. The dentin contains microscopic tubules filled with tiny nerve endings. When this area is exposed, your teeth can become especially sensitive to hot, cold, acidic, and sugary (sticky) foods and beverages. It also might cause a toothache or sharp pain when you bite down.
- Holes or pits in your teeth. When the enamel wears away, you may be able to feel a rough patch on your tooth with your tongue. These holes and pits can also catch food, and — depending on the size of the cavity — you may even be able to see the evidence of it in your mouth.
- Black, brown, or white stains. Sometimes the food or drinks you consume can cause surface stains on your tooth; however, cavities can also appear as white, brown, or black spots on your teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), when the bacterial acid first causes the tooth enamel to demineralize, the affected area may appear as a white spot, which can be healed. Over time and without treatment, the cavity will begin to look like a brown or black spot.