While you may be practicing good oral hygiene and regularly visiting your dentist to prevent cavities, the ugly truth is that cavities can still happen. In fact, you may not even notice cavity symptoms until you visit your dentist for a cleaning. However, early identification of a cavity is critical. Cavities that aren’t “spotted” early can erode your teeth to the point that they reach the nerves and blood vessels, and potentially cause gum disease along with serious pain.
With that in mind, today we’ll discuss 4 signs and symptoms that you may have a cavity and how to best treat it.
What is a cavity?
Cavities are the most common issue we see with regard to dental care in North Raleigh. A cavity is a small hole in the hard, outer layer of your tooth that we refer to as your enamel. It is the most common source of pain, discomfort, and further complications. And while cavities can certainly be the result of genetic predisposition, poor diet or lack of hygiene, cavities can also be a reflection of an underlying health issue.
Unfortunately, it’s hard enough to spot a cavity early considering that most cavities show up with little or no symptoms (at least in the beginning), much less know the cause behind it. However, what we do know is that cavities form as a result of plaque buildup. When food gets stuck in your teeth (especially sugary foods), the plaque-causing bacteria in your mouth take that sugar and turn it into acid. That acid then breaks down your tooth’s enamel over time creating cavities.
Signs and Symptoms of a Cavity
Let’s take a look at the most common signs and cavity symptoms.
1. Tooth sensitivity
It’s much easier to prevent a cavity than to identify a cavity on your own; but if you’re experiencing any sort of pain or sensitivity in your teeth, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your dentist. This is particularly true for hot, cold, and sugary foods. Don’t ignore even mild pain to one tooth or an area of your mouth. The earliest signs of a cavity are just that – mild. However, you can reduce further deterioration by staying keyed into your teeth. Try brushing with special toothpaste made for sensitive teeth and see if you notice any improvement. If not, you likely have a cavity.
If that sensitivity has turned into a toothache, this likely means the cavity has reached a nerve in your tooth that is causing the pain or the tooth is infected. Either way, if you’re experiencing any sort of severe toothache, you should schedule an appointment to see your dentist.
2. Bad breath
Bad breath can be an indication of a few health-related concerns, including strep throat. But, if you otherwise feel fine, you may have a cavity. Cavities are caused by bacteria. Bacteria is frequently the cause of bad breath (especially on your tongue), but if you do have a cavity and it’s been left untreated for too long, it means that your tooth is starting to decay. Brushing and flossing is the best way to keep bacteria at bay. However, if your bad breath is being caused by a cavity, it likely won’t go away following your usual morning dental routine.
3. Dark spots or holes
Pay attention to any dark spots or holes in your teeth. While some dark spots are the result of a natural stain, if that spot is sticky, it could mean that you have the beginnings of a cavity. Furthermore, if you have any pain while eating, check your mouth for holes. Holes in your teeth are never good. In fact, a hole in your tooth is an obvious cavity symptom that bacteria has created a hole in your tooth and that you should schedule an appointment with your dentist ASAP.
4. Cracked teeth
Cracked teeth are typically not a good sign either. If a tooth has cracked due to an accident or even chewing hard foods, you should give your dentist a call. In fact, avoid chewing on that side of your mouth until the tooth is repaired. Cracked teeth can be the result of cavities. Again, because the bacteria that create cavities weaken your tooth enamel in the process, your teeth are more vulnerable when you’re chewing certain foods.
How do you prevent cavities?
The best way to prevent cavities is to practice good oral hygiene by brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Here are some other tips to prevent cavities from forming:
- Brush your teeth after you eat or drink anything other than water. We suggest carrying a travel toothbrush and toothpaste with you so you don’t forget to brush after you eat. You might even leave a set in your desk at work so that it becomes part of your daily routine.
- Avoid sugary and sticky foods altogether. We often teach kids to avoid anything that is “sticky icky,” but the same sentiment should be applied to adult teeth. Sticky, sugary foods can stick to your teeth longer and attract more cavity-causing bacteria. Be especially mindful of this during the holidays (including Valentine’s later this week).
- Use mouthwash to rinse out extra food residue, after brushing and flossing; but also in between brushings as necessary.
- Chew sugar-free, ADA-approved gum. We particularly like xylitol gum as it will promote saliva in your mouth and wash away bad bacteria.
- Choose water! Drinking water helps wash out extra food residue and won’t add more cavity producing sugar to your mouth. Tap water also has fluoride in it that helps strengthens your teeth against cavities.
- Eat more leafy greens, fresh fruit, and dairy products – all foods that promote good oral health.
Be sure to visit your dentist regularly to prevent cavities from forming. If it’s been more than six months since you’ve seen the dentist, call Dr. Katherine E. Garrett and schedule your appointment. New patients are always welcome, and we are proud to provide dental care for your entire family. Don’t wait until you have a dental emergency, call our office today!