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Top Signs That You May Have a Cavity

A cavity develops when plaque creates an area of decay on the affected tooth. Plaque, which is a combination of bacteria and food debris, can create an acid that’s capable of destroying your tooth if it’s not removed by daily brushing and flossing. Despite extensive public education on oral hygiene, cavities remain one of the most common dental problems. Among Americans ages 20-64, 92% have at least one cavity

Regular dental checkups can detect cavities in their earliest stages when treatment is easiest. Trent W. Smallwood, DDS, at the Centre for Contemporary Dental Concepts in Tempe, Arizona, provides expert diagnosis and treatment for cavities. If your cavities require procedures involving fillings or other repairs, Dr. Smallwood can correct the damage and restore health and function to the affected tooth.

Read on to find out if you may be experiencing some of the most common symptoms of a cavity, so you can get treatment as soon as possible.

Temperature sensitivity

In a healthy tooth, the outermost area, called enamel, shields the tooth and nerves from the effects of hot and cold foods. As the acid in plaque erodes the enamel of a tooth, it creates small holes in the surface. When the enamel deteriorates, it exposes the tooth’s next layer, called dentin. 

The soft dentin layer contains tiny tubes that communicate with the nerves of your tooth. You’re more likely to have extreme reactions to temperature changes after the enamel deteriorates and the dentin becomes exposed because dentin isn’t strong enough to protect your tooth from the sensations of extreme temperatures. With its direct connection to your tooth’s nerves, hot and cold foods can create a more intense reaction.

Visual changes

You may notice visual signs of a cavity before you experience any characteristic symptoms of pain or discomfort. White, black, or brown spots or stains on a tooth can indicate decay and the start of a cavity. Other signs of a cavity can include the appearance of tiny holes or pits where deterioration starts.


Mild pain is common in the early stages of a cavity. You may also experience pain with pressure or biting down on a tooth. If you leave a cavity untreated, the pain may progress and become more severe. 

Eventually, a cavity can cause constant pain, whether you’re at rest, eating, or talking. This can occur when tooth decay wears past the enamel and dentin to affect the tooth’s pulp, the inner tooth material that contains your nerves and blood vessels. As the pulp becomes swollen from infection, it can press on the nerves and cause pain.  

Bad breath

Cavities create pockets or holes in the surfaces of your teeth. Bacteria hide and thrive in these spaces. Because these spaces are small, and touching them can be painful, it can be hard to remove this bacteria when brushing. The lingering bacteria can give off foul-smelling gasses that result in bad breath.


Cavities can create symptoms outside of your mouth, too. Many headaches originate with cavities and toothaches. Pain in your teeth or jaw can radiate to sites in your head because the sensations in both areas are controlled by your trigeminal nerve. Pain caused by a cavity in your mouth can cause pain in your temples, behind your eyes, or in your forehead, resulting in a headache.

If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms, don’t delay in getting a dental exam. The earlier you treat a cavity, the better your chances are of saving your tooth with less invasive treatment. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with the Centre for Contemporary Dental Concepts today.

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