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Cavity: Overview, Symptoms, Facts & Tips

Female with tooth cavity

Cavity, also known as tooth decay or caries, refers to the damage of the tooth that is a result of plaque bacteria breaking down sugar in your mouth and creating acid that softens the tooth enamel. A cavity in the tooth can occur if the loss of mineral is left untreated. Over time the cavity can increase in size and destroy the whole tooth.

The acid can expand and eat away the dentin which is the next layer of the tooth, causing root cavities. At this stage, you may start to feel pain when drinking and eating because the nerves in your teeth have become exposed. Dental cavity can be prevented by taking good care of your teeth and mouth because a cavity is often a result of poor oral hygiene.


One of the most common health problems is tooth decay. The oral cavity is very typical in older adults, teenagers, and children. What does a cavity look like? The symptoms of a cavity can vary, depending on their location and extent. When it’s just starting to appear, you may not even notice any symptoms. When it gets bigger, some signs you should keep an eye for are:

  • Spontaneous pain that appears without any cause or pain that is constant
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Pressure when biting down
  • Pain while drinking something hot or cold and when eating something sweet
  • White, black or brown stains on the surface of your teeth
  • A pit or hole inside the affected tooth which is sometimes only visible on a dental x-ray
  • Pus around the affected tooth


Candies and sugary foods can cause tooth cavity

Tooth decay can be caused by numerous reasons. Some of the major factors that contribute to tooth cavity are sticky, sugary beverages and foods. Plaque combines with the sugar and leaves you more vulnerable to tooth decay because it weakens the enamel of the tooth. Some things you should watch out for are:

  • Plaque formation – When food particles, acid and bacteria combine in your mouth it results in plaque. The plaque sticks to your teeth and builds up over time, eventually attacking the enamel and leaving holes in your teeth. What helps out washing out the plaque from the teeth is saliva. Plaque may form more quickly if you have very little saliva, so try not to have a dry mouth.
  • Eating and drinking – Since there is no way to avoid eating and drinking, you should try to avoid food that tends to stick to your teeth and increases the risk of cavities. Because the carbohydrates remain on your teeth until brushing, and sometimes even then you can’t remove all the food particles, you should try to eat as little as you can of hard candy, dried fruit, caramel, taffy, dry cereal, raising, breath mints and cookies.
  • Poor oral hygiene –Plaque build-up and attacks the enamel often as a result of not brushing and flossing your teeth regularly.
  • Medical problems – Some types of conditions like bulimia increase the risk of cavity because during frequent vomiting the teeth are often exposed to stomach acid. Similarly, cancer treatment can change the makeup of the saliva and increase the growth of bacteria through cancer treatment the exposes the next and head to radiation.

Cavity Treatment

Female dentist showing cavities to a patient on an x-ray

Your dentist can diagnose tooth cavity after an oral exam, or if that isn’t possible then after an X-ray. The type of treatment will depend on how severe the tooth decay is. It may include:

  • Dental filling –The dentist removes the decayed material from your tooth with a drill and fills the tooth with a substance like composite resin, silver or gold.
  • Root canal – Your dentist will have to perform a root canal when a cavity causes the death of your tooth. To save your tooth, he will have to remove any decayed areas, nerve tissue, and blood vessel tissues, and then apply medication if needed. Then he will fill the tooth.
  • Crowns – If the tooth decay is severe, in order to replace the natural crown of the tooth the dentist will place a custom fit cap (also known as dental crowns) over it. Before starting this procedure, he will remove the decayed tooth material.
  • Early-stage treatment – Tooth enamel can be restored through a fluoride treatment if your dentist detects the cavity in its early stage.


To prevent tooth cavities, you should:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste;
  • Find a toothbrush that reaches all the surfaces of your teeth and has a textured tongue cleaner since it’s the place where bacteria that cause oral malodor live
  • Floss your teeth at least twice a day;
  • Use a mouthwash that will not only leave your breath fresh but it will also kill the bacteria that causes plaque
  • Limit acidic and sugary foods like soda, juice, candy, sweets, and refined carbohydrates;
  • Think about getting dental sealants

Foods that can help you in fighting tooth decay are:

  • Unsweetened green or black tea
  • Water with fluoride
  • Fruits and vegetables that are rich with fiber
  • Foods that are rich with calcium
  • Xylitol sugarless chewing gum

To prevent future dental problems, you should also visit your dentist at least twice a year and treat any problems that your dentist finds.

When to See a Dentist

It is important to have routine dental exams even when you feel okay because you might not be aware that a cavity is forming. Though, you should see a dentist as soon as possible if you start feeling mouth pain or a toothache. At Modern Day Smiles Dentistry, we offer a New Patient Special that includes an exam, X-rays and cleaning for only $59. Call (727) 322-0505 or (813) 890-0044 and schedule an appointment in one of our dental offices in Tampa or St. Petersburg!


Q: How to deal with the discomfort of the cavity temporarily?

A: You should stay away from extremely cold or hot foods and drinks or take over the counter pain relievers.

Q: What are some home treatments that can help with cavities:

A: Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste, eating foods that are high in vitamin D like yogurt and milk, chewing sugar-free gum, and swishing around coconut or sesame oil in your mouth for 20 minutes can help in remineralizing weakened areas.

Q: Can braces cause cavities?

A: It is possible for people with braces to develop small cavities because the braces can make it difficult for patients to brush and floss their teeth properly.