Did you know that oral health is closely tied to your overall well-being? That’s right; how well you take care of your teeth will influence your health, as poor dental hygiene can lead to or worsen various conditions, such as heart and lung disease. To that end, you ought to learn how to tell if you have a cavity and when to seek a dentist’s help.
Naturally, cavity treatment varies depending on the type you’re dealing with. The three most common types are smooth surface decay, root decay, and pit and fissure decay. What’s important to remember is that proper dental hygiene can keep severe cavities at bay. Still, if push comes to shove, extraction may be the only solution.
Don’t let it go that far! Today, you’ll read about some prevention techniques, as well as the telltale signs that cavities are plaguing your mouth. First things first, though — before learning how to tell if you have a cavity, you ought to understand what it even is.
What Is a Cavity Anyway?
In a nutshell, a cavity is basically tooth damage that happens in case a person isn’t brushing their teeth well or flossing every day.
When you don’t diligently remove bits of food from in between the teeth or flush out the bacteria while brushing your teeth, there’s a good chance plaque will form. This compound contains bacteria, which produce acids that eat away at the enamel, the hard, outside surface layer of teeth.
The longer you let plaque build up on your teeth, the more likely it will form holes, i.e., cavities. Once such damage is done, the dentist will have to go to great lengths to somehow fix the holes.
The most common treatment is a filling, but if the damage is severe, the dentist may decide to put a crown. Root canal treatment is necessary if the damage has gone to the root. Of course, the worst-case scenario is tooth extraction.
How to Tell If You Have a Cavity: 8 Changes to Pay Attention to
Fortunately, if you learn how to tell if you have a cavity on time, there’s a good chance you won’t have to endure lengthy treatments and potential complications. The following are the most common signs to keep in mind:
1. Holes or Pits in Your Teeth
For some people, the easiest thing to notice is a hole in the tooth, given that they can run their tongue over it and feel the crevice. This isn’t a good sign, though — it means that the tooth damage has progressed. Now, you have to get the hole filled or have the tooth fitted with a crown.
Usually, holes or pits in the bottom teeth are the easiest to see; you only need to look in the mirror to notice them.
If you’re worried about your upper teeth, it’s best to get another mirror (the smaller, the better). Stand in front of your bathroom mirror and use the smaller one to see what’s hiding in your upper teeth. If there are some holes, it’s time to call your dentist and schedule an appointment.
Keep in mind, though, that the holes may sometimes form in crevices or between the teeth. You may not notice them in that case, but your teeth are likely to be sensitive either way. Regular dentist appointments should help — proper dental hygiene also includes six-month checkups (at least).
At first, cavities may not result in any pain at all, as the damage may not be severe enough to reach the nerve endings. In that case, figuring out how to tell if you have a cavity may prove a bit challenging; pain is the trigger that usually makes people pay attention.
However, you may occasionally feel some pain if the cavity has been ignored. Usually, damaged teeth are rather sensitive, so some aches are unavoidable and somewhat sudden. You may also feel some pain when biting down on food.
As the cavity becomes worse, so will the pain. The decay makes the teeth weak and vulnerable to even more damage. Thus, at some point, you will feel aching even when chewing soft food. After a while, the pain will become consistent.
3. Sensitivity to Hot and Cold Food or Drinks
One of the typical signs that there might be a cavity or two you ought to deal with is teeth sensitivity. In particular, people often say that they experience sharp pain when eating or drinking hot and cold foods and beverages. Others may only feel a slight tickle or tingle in the teeth.
In either case, the issue may become worse over time, and it definitely requires your attention. Although some people have naturally sensitive teeth, teeth sensitivity is usually associated with the wear and tear of enamel due to improper dental hygiene.
Once enamel wears away and becomes too thin, the harder layer underneath it, dentin, will be exposed. The nerves and cells found in it will then be affected by the stuff you ingest and temperature changes, in particular.
4. Lingering Discomfort After Sweets and Acidic Food or Drinks
You may have heard that sweets will make your teeth rot, and to some extent, that is true. Sugar, or rather, the combination of sugar, bacteria, and saliva, leads to plaque formation, which dissolves enamel. The damage it can do to your teeth often results in cavities.
The problem? You’re not going to stop eating sweets any time soon, so any extra sugar may reach dentin and produce lingering discomfort.
Something similar happens with acidic foods or drinks, which you should also avoid consuming all the time. They can contribute to tooth erosion, a process that changes how your teeth look and feel. If your diet consists of highly acidic meals and beverages, you may notice some tooth discoloration, pain, sensitivity, and even changes in your fillings.
5. Teeth Stains and Spots
Before a hole makes an appearance, you are likely to see some staining on your teeth. In the beginning, the stains may be white and thus barely noticeable. However, over time, they may become brown or black until, finally, they are replaced by holes.
6. Bad Breath
Since bacteria is the main “ingredient” for plaque and tooth decay, it’s only natural that bad breath is one of the signs you have some cavities. The bacteria spread around your mouth, going deeper into the teeth and causing incredible damage. At the same time, these organisms break down bits of food left in between and on the teeth, as well as release foul-smelling sulfur compounds.
If you notice your breath has had a particular odor for a while now, it may be time for a visit to the dentist. If the bacteria get into the cavities, bad breath is almost a guarantee.
Plus, there’s nothing you can do about it except go and get proper treatment. No amount of mouthwash will keep your breath fresh since the damage and bacteria are already there, wreaking more havoc with each passing day.
7. Fragile Teeth That Easily Break and Chip
Since cavities may lead to holes in your teeth, it’s not surprising at all that the whole tooth structure may be compromised. The more damage there is, the weaker the tooth becomes, which makes it susceptible to chips and cracks.
Usually, teeth don’t chip or break off on their own; you’ll have to bite down on something or opt for some chewy snacks.
Either way, it’s best not to let it go so far. The dentist may not be able to fill the tooth if there’s not enough of it left. In that case, crowns or even whole extractions may be necessary.
Finally, if your dental hygiene isn’t up to standard, there’s always a risk of a bacterial infection and dental abscesses. Without proper brushing and flossing, plaque will remain on the teeth, and bacteria will keep spreading.
At some point, it will reach the soft tissue of your gums or teeth. Once there, the bacteria will infect the tissue, causing pus to build up inside the gums or teeth.
How to Prevent Future Cavity Problems
But the story doesn’t end now that you know how to tell if you have a cavity. If left untreated, cavities can lead to blood abscesses and even life-threatening infections. Thus, preventing future cavities ought to be your focus once the dentist deals with the current ones. To stay on top of your dental hygiene, remember to:
• Go in for regular checkups, at least twice a year.
• Vigorously brush your teeth twice a day or more often (after each meal is your safest bet).
• Use dental floss to remove any bits of food from in between the teeth.
• Rinse your mouth with water throughout the day. That should boost the flow of your saliva, which protects the teeth by neutralizing (and washing away) all the bad stuff found inside your mouth.
Now that you know how to tell if you have a cavity, it’s time to upgrade your dental care routine. The health of your teeth can influence your overall well-being, not to mention make or break your confidence (nobody likes bad breath!).
So don’t slack around — make sure to keep those pearly whites clean to avoid nasty cavities and the consequences that follow them.