How to Tell if You Have a Cavity

Looking for Cavities


Although improvements have been made in oral care over the years, 90% of the world's population have problems with cavities at one point in their life. In fact, in May 2000, the Surgeon General published a report on oral health care in America. According to them, even though strides have been made in oral health care, there is a silent epidemic and a greater risk for oral health problems in certain populations.

Tooth Anatomy

Tooth Anatomy

Before discussing how to tell if you have a cavity, understanding tooth anatomy is important. The tooth is composed of layers. The crown is the visible part of the tooth above the gumline. Enamel is the outermost covering of the crown. The hardest substance in the body, it covers and protects the tooth from bacteria and injury. Beneath the enamel, the next layer is dentin. Dentin is a bone-like material that surrounds and protects the nerve. This layer affects the color of the tooth. It is sensitive to touch and other stimuli. It nourishes the dentin. Pulp is a soft tissue under the dentin. Composed of blood vessels and nerves, if decay attacks the pulp, pain is usually the result. Like enamel covers the visible part of the tooth, under the gumline, cementum covers the dentin of the roots. The roots are embedded in the tooth socket and held in place by the periodontal ligament.

Causes of a Cavity

Tooth decay is caused by an acidic environment and bacteria. After eating, the bacteria in dental plaque metabolize sugar and carbohydrates. The by-product of this is acid. These acid attacks happen every time you eat something sweet or starchy and lasts 20 minutes. These continual attacks over time can destroy the tooth.

There are three main types of cavity causing bacteria. These are Lactobacillus acidophillius, six species of Streptococcus, and Odontomyces viscoses. Lactobacillus acidophillius bacteria attack the pits and fissures of chewing surfaces. Streptococcus bacteria usually attack the smooth surfaces adjacent to other teeth. Unfortunately, these types of cavities are hard to detect without x-rays. Odontomyces viscoses live on the back of the tongue. Unlike the other types of bacteria, they attack cementum under the gumline. This is more common in older people or people with gum disease that have exposed cementum and tooth roots.

Signs and Symptoms of a Cavity

Unfortunately, in the beginning, a cavity may be symptom-free. However, as a cavity progresses, different signs and symptoms can alert you to the possiblity of a cavity. These signs and symptoms are:

  • Toothache
  • Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sugary food and liquid
  • Bad breath
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Pain when biting down
  • Pus around a tooth
  • White or brown spots on the teeth
  • Visible holes or pits



If you have one of these signs or symptoms, visit your dentist as soon as possible. Knowing how to tell if you have a cavity and seeking treatment early can save you money and pain. Even if you don't have any signs or symptoms of cavities, practice good oral care habits. Reduce sugary foods and liquids. Limit eating between meals. Brush and floss at least twice daily. Visit your dentist regularly. By visiting your dentist regularly, you may be able to catch the development of cavities before signs and symptoms appear. Prevention is the key to a healthy smile that lasts a lifetime.

Related Article

 If you do have a cavity, it doesn't necessarily mean you need a filling. Dependent on the extent of your cavity, you may be able to heal your cavity on your own. This process is called remineralization, and many dentists don't even tell their patients about it. To find out more, read Tooth Remineralization: What Your Dentist Hasn't Told You About Cavities

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Comments 38 comments

seamist profile image

seamist 7 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Hi Ladyvenus

Yes, unfortunately, many people cannot afford dental care. However, in most instances, it's not true that people have cavities "due to negligence and lack of oral hygiene. How much saliva you have is big factor in tooth decay. Without going into a long explanation, saliva helps protect teeth against cavities. If you have "dry mouth", it can increase your risk for cavities. The kinds of food you eat can increase your risk for cavities too.

Joyce'Lynn 6 years ago

i brush my teeth but when i pus back with my toothbrush at the back of my mouth i fill pain why?

Gemma 6 years ago

I bite down on my tooth and it hurts. That's the only symptom I have. Do I have a cavity??

seamist profile image

seamist 6 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Hi Gemma

I am not a dentist, but I would certainly get it checked out by a dentist.

DentistWestPalm profile image

DentistWestPalm 6 years ago from West Palm Beach

Hey Seamist,

Great Hub post on the subject of dental cavities. We all need some basic knowledge about cavities and how they come about.

Because from personal experience I can honestly say that cavities in your teeth, come with a horrible pain. So much you can't even enjoy your food when eating because of the pain.

Thanks for the helpful info - Keep it up

seamist profile image

seamist 6 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Hi DentistWestPalm

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Jescola  6 years ago

My tooth hurt when I bite down on it but I'm having trouble because of my jaw clenching together as I sleep does tht mean I hve a cavity or just a cussed of my bad sleep habit.

seamist profile image

seamist 6 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Hi Jescola

If you clench your teeth at night, you probably have a condition called bruxism. I have it too by the way. From what my dentist said, it's a subconscious way the body relieves stress. Unfortunately, it can do damage to the teeth. For instance, it can cause hairline cracks in your teeth, and those can hurt whether you can see them or not. Go to your dentist and see if he or she can see any signs of bruxism. If so, they can make a mouth guard you can wear at night to protect your teeth. You can also buy these mouth guards at Walmart, etc. However, I don't know whether they work as well as the ones made by the dentist. Good luck!

Better Yourself profile image

Better Yourself 6 years ago from North Carolina

Great hub, very informative.

seamist profile image

seamist 6 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Hi Better Yourself

Thank you! I am glad you found it informative.

Dent 6 years ago

Anytime i drink something one of my teeth hurts. Any type of liquid makes it hurt

Sevil 6 years ago

My tooth only hurts when i bite down on it hard.

do you think i should visit a dentist?

seamist profile image

seamist 6 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Hi Sevil

Yes, I would see the dentist.

Blablabla 6 years ago

Part of my mouth just hurts every now and then. Should I get it checked out and if so when

seamist profile image

seamist 6 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Hi Blablabla

Yes, I would get it checked out right away!

lorena morales 6 years ago

I have a nerve that feels like a strong current every time i bite down. Never had a cavity in my life and brush and floss 3x daily??????

seamist profile image

seamist 6 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Hi Lorena


Wow, you take very good care of your teeth with flossing three times a day! Even though that is the case, if I were you, I'd get it checked out. It may not be a cavity. You could have a hairline crack in your tooth you're not aware of it. Are you under a lot of stress? Some people under a lot of stress have bruxism. Bruxism is a stress-related disorder where people unconsciously grind their teeth or clench their jaw at night. It can result in jaw pain and cracked teeth. Good luck!

Amary  5 years ago

I had a cavity when I was 8.5 yrs old in Dr. Spate's office. They drilled me in the tooth. I DID NOT LIKE IT!

mia 5 years ago

My sis has a bad toothake. and she is crying.

seamist profile image

seamist 5 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Hi Mia

If your sister's tooth is hurting, your mom should take her to the dentist. Pain is an indication that something is wrong. It usually doesn't go away on its own.

helllolife 5 years ago

I have a tooth with a darker stain, but it doesn't hurt or anything. could it be a cavity?

seamist profile image

seamist 5 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Since I'm not a dentist I don't know for sure. Darker discolorations can be an indication of a cavity beginning. If you're worried about it, I'd check it out with my dentist. Thanks for stopping by!

sj  5 years ago

Not true... I brush three times a day and floss every day, sometimes twice a day, and still constantly get cavities. I never go to bed w out brushing my teeth and when the dentists do cleanings on me they tell me that my gums are healthier than average and hardly any plaque comes off of them. I have calcium deficiency no matter how many supplements I take, so everyone is different

Amanda 5 years ago

I have a couple spots in between my teth, some of which I've noticed recently, but some I know were there on my last check-up at the dentist. I'm afraid of cavities (never had one) so I never point out the dark spot(s) between my teeth at the dentist o.O I think I should?

Dentist scares me!

Robert 5 years ago

Today is when I just noticed a small pain in one of my teeth everytime I bight down on food, or when I hit it with my electric toothbrush. Is this a major problem? A possible cavity?

well then 5 years ago

i have a huge pit in my back tooth...i mean huge takes up almost all the tooth, hurts like hell but can't afford a dentist..mmhmm too bad im gona have to deal with this pain

Kevin 5 years ago

I had a filling done over 9 months ago on my tooth. Now I have a bad toothache would the tooth need to be removed.

benmartinez35 5 years ago

from time to time i get a toothache but its usually for a day and most of the time i forget to brush my teeth due to being so busy and or tired from work do i have a cavity?

charlie 5 years ago

i have very very small holes in one tooth this is the only symtom i have do have a cavity

Timmy 5 years ago

When my tooth is sorta sensitive do i have a cavity? i mean i don't know y i would have one tough?

Valerie 5 years ago

Hi im Valerie and the back of my mouth my tooth has like a black dot and when i touch it with something sharp it doest hurt but im scared if its a cavity my little cousin has a cavity and she went to go get it filled in and she was scared but she still went i don't know if i should go the last time i got a cavity was last year and they gave me a shot i got nervous if the shot would hurt but it didn't and the cavity getting filled in didn't hurt a lot but to tell you the truth i don't remember how it felt im scared if it was a bad feeling im not so sure if i should go plz reply with some ideas. :(

seamist profile image

seamist 5 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

To all

If you have pain or a dark spot on a tooth, you should get it checked out by a dentist. Don't put if off out fear, it will only get worse.

Daniel 5 years ago

I just noticed this hair line dark spot across the bottom of my tooth ontop of my gums and I'm so scared I have a cavity cuz my teeth mean everything to me and I also just got mmy braces off those teeth but I swear it wasn't there like a week ago but I didn't really look I thought it might have been food so naturally I grabbed some floss and tried to like get it out and I swear I got under my tooth which also scared me cuz idk if your supposed to be able to do that so I'm wondering if I have.a cavity and would I be able to get rid of it on my own if it was just starting

nyta 4 years ago

so what do u think i should do if my tooth has been hurting and my breath smells worst then garbage

Atoosa 4 years ago

Hi, the only sign i have is a black spot on my teeth, nothing else! do I have a cavity??

Allie 4 years ago

Hi, my tooth hurts when I touch it and that's it. Does that meAn I should see a doctor?

icyartic911 3 years ago

Hey; I have no other symptoms besides sensitivity when drinking cold liquids...should I get my tooth checked? I can't see anything and it doesn't hurt at all when I bite or chew something.

seamist profile image

seamist 3 years ago from Northern Minnesota Author

Although I am not a dentist, yes, you should get it checked out. Even though you can't see anything, you could have a hairline crack.

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