Tooth Decay Symptoms

Having healthy teeth is important to our overall health. To keep the teeth in good condition and prevent possible complications, the prevention of tooth decay is vitally important. Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 30 percent of adult Americans have untreated cavities. If not treated, cavities can destroy the teeth and possibly lead to serious complications. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a cavity are important so that it can be treated quickly. If a cavity is suspected, see a dentist as soon as possible.

What are Cavities?

As food and bacteria build up on the teeth, plaque forms. Bacteria in the plaque produce acids that wear away the enamel on the surface of the teeth. Flossing and brushing the teeth regularly can help remove the sticky plaque but if allowed to build up, the plaque continues to wear away the enamel leading to cavities.
Cavities leave holes in the tooth and if not treated, can eventually destroy the tooth. Untreated cavities can also lead to more serious complications, such as a tooth abscess or a life-threatening infection that gets into the bloodstream.

Signs and Symptoms of a Cavity

  • Sensitivity to Cold and Hot: Patients experiencing a lingering sensitivity in a tooth after eating cold or hot food, could have a cavity. When tooth enamel wears away and decay progresses deeper into the tooth, the dentin can be affected. The tissue below the enamel, the dentin contains tiny hollow tubes that communicate signals between the tooth nerves and brain. When there is not enough enamel protecting the dentin, foods that are cold, hot, acidic, or sticky, can stimulate the nerve inside the tooth creating the sensitivity.
  • Sensitivity to Sweets: While sensitivity to hot or cold are most common with a cavity, consuming sweet foods and drinks can also lead to a lingering sensitivity. Like temperature sensitivity, sensitivity from sweets is typically the result of enamel damage and the beginning of a cavity.
  • Toothache: One of the most common signs of a cavity is an ongoing ache in one or more teeth. The onset of these toothaches can be sudden or the result of something eaten and may include discomfort and pain in or around the mouth. There may also be pressure and pain when biting down on or chewing food.
  • Staining on the Tooth: Early tooth decay often presents as a white spot on the surface of the tooth. As the decay advances, the stain gets darker and may turn from white to brown or black.
  • A Pit or Hole in the Tooth: If not treated, the white spot on the tooth will progress and result in a pit or hole. The hole may be visible when looking in the mirror or felt when running the tongue over the surface of the tooth. Some holes, such as those between the teeth or in crevices, cannot be felt or seen but may still result in pain or sensitivity around the area of the cavity. Patients that notice a pit or hole in a tooth should consult a dentist as soon as possible since this is a clear sign they have a cavity.

More on Tooth Decay : Stages of Tooth Decay