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How to Know if You Have a Cavity

Updated on March 27, 2015
Tooth Cartoon Cavity
Tooth Cartoon Cavity | Source

What is a Cavity?

You can’t know that you have a cavity if you don’t first know what a cavity is. The top layer of your tooth is called enamel. This is a term most individuals are familiar with. Under your enamel is another layer called the dentin. These two layers protect the tissue and nerves of the tooth. They can get holes in them, and when they do we call them cavities.

How Do You Get a Cavity?

Cavities occur when bacteria attacks the top two layers of the tooth. The bacteria forms an acid that softens up the enamel and the dentin. When these two layers become soft, parts of the layers can disintegrate from the natural saliva found in a person’s mouth. The area that disappears is the called the cavity.

‏Toothache or Tooth Pain
‏Toothache or Tooth Pain
Tooth Sensitivity
Tooth Sensitivity
Bad Breath
Bad Breath | Source

How Do You Know if You Have a Cavity?

1. Pain in your tooth:

This is the most obvious way to tell if you have a cavity. You may only experience pain in your mouth when you go to eat. The pain may also only be on one side of your mouth (the side that has the cavity). If the cavity is bad then it will hurt even when you are not eating. Any pain to a tooth is cause to make a dentist appointment. You don’t want to allow any cavities the chance to do more damage then they have already done.

2. Tooth Sensitivity:

The presence of tooth sensitivity can mean a cavity. Your tooth is sensitive when it hurts anytime you drink something cold or hot, but is fine otherwise. You can try some sensitive tooth toothpaste, but if it doesn't alleviate any of the symptoms you will need to see your dentist to determine if a cavity is the culprit.

3. Bad Breath:

Anytime you have a cavity you can get bad breath. The breakdown of your tooth is coming from a bacteria. When you have a cavity, you have a hole in your tooth that can trap food. The food sits in the hole and rots causing an unpleasant odor. Brushing may not get all the food and germs out of the cavity. If you have bad breath that doesn’t go away, you should make an appointment to see your dentist.

4. Bad taste in your mouth:

Once again, bacteria and stuck food can result in a nasty taste in your mouth. It will most likely occur along with the bad breath. You can gargle with mouthwash, but it is only a temporary solution. The only way to get rid of this bad taste in your mouth is to have the dentist clean out the cavity and fill it.

5. Dark Spots:

When cavities become more severe, you will be able to see them. They will appear dark in certain spots. If you have a small mirror or dental mirror, you can check your teeth yourself.

6. Holes in your teeth:

You can feel holes in your teeth with your tongue. Sometimes you can even see them if the hole is on top of the tooth. If you find one of these holes, you know that you have a cavity. You need to schedule an appointment with your dentist right away so that the hole can be properly filled.

7. Pus. Pus is a form of an abscess:

This is the most serious symptom of a cavity and require immediate attention. It can cause fevers, pain, and even swollen glands. A dentist may want to get you started on an antibiotic.

Cavities and Fillings
Cavities and Fillings

How Do You Treat a Cavity?

Once you are found to have a cavity, you need to get it treated right away. Only a dentist can do this. The dentist will request an x-ray of your mouth to determine if there are any other cavities in addition to the one you have found. The dentist will then clean the tooth that has the cavity. Then he or she will fill the tooth so that it will not be able to trap any more food in the hole, or grow anymore bacteria that would make the cavity bigger. This can be done in one office visit and does not require any further attention.

How Do You Prevent Cavities?

1. Eat less sugar:

Sugar is well known to cause cavities. You don’t have to get rid of sugar completely from your diet, but by consuming half of the sugar you normally eat you will reduce your chances of getting a cavity by 50%. This could mean using ½ teaspoon of sugar in your coffee instead of a whole teaspoon or eating two cookies after dinner instead of four.

2. Seal your teeth:

A dentist can seal in your teeth which prevents cavities from forming in the first place. The seal takes minutes to put on, doesn’t hurt, and can last for several years. Dentists begin doing this with children, but it will work on adults as well.

3. Brush and floss:

Obviously, you need to brush your teeth twice per day, and floss at least once. The cleaner you keep your teeth, the better your chances of avoiding cavities will be. These habits should be taught to children as soon as they are old enough to hold a toothbrush. Adults that are more prone to cavities may want to consider brushing after each meal.

4. Mouthwash:

Make sure you find a mouthwash like Listerine that kills germs. You could make your own mouthwash at home and gargle with salt water. Salt dries things out. Bacteria need moisture in order to live. If you gargle with salt you are helping your mouth by not giving the bacteria proper living conditions. This is why individuals are told to gargle with salt water when they have a sore throat.


  • Call 1-800-DENTIST to speak to an operator that can help you locate a dentist in your area.
  • Get your teeth professionally cleaned at least two times each year. Even if you are very careful about brushing your teeth, you can not do as good of a job as a dental hygienist. Taking good care of your teeth now, will benefit you when you age because you won’t need to buy dentures.

© 2015 Discover the World


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      Gufyy 2 years ago

      I have the same prob, lots of decay. I needed 4 filnligs a couple yrs ago, and trusted the dentist did a good job and removed the decayed parts. About a month later I went to a different dentist (for some aesthetic work), and on xray, it showed lots of decay under the filnligs I just had done. That other dentist DID NOT remove the decay before she filled my teeth! I was so pissed off, and asked she refund me $1000 for the dental work and she did! And avoid root canal the rods contain mercury!