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Tooth Cavities: Symptoms and Causes

Tooth decay, or tooth cavities, is a process that starts with oral acid eroding tooth enamel.

This decay results in the emergence of tooth cavities, which may take various colors and shapes.

If left untreated, tooth cavities may lead to toothache, tooth loss, infection, and even abscess formation.

If you are suffering from any of the symptoms described above, it is imperative that you get dental care as soon as you can.
Table of Contents

Symptoms of Cavities

Symptoms of cavities - young man in close-up touching his face and closing his eyes with a horrified expression as he suffers from an excruciating sensitive tooth
No. 1

Tooth Sensitivity

When caries involve the dentin, tooth sensitivity occurs.

The sensitivity occurs in the presence of a stimulus from cold foods and water.
Symptom of cavities - a young man who is struggling with tooth pain
No. 2


When caries further penetrate towards the pulp, toothache occurs.

The nature of pain is spontaneous and does not resolve unless treated by a dentist.
Symptom of cavities - man holds a decayed tooth in his hand
No. 3

Hole In Tooth

In the absence of early management of caries, caries further progress and destroy the tooth structure, leading to the formation of a hole-like appearance or a cavity in the tooth.
Symptom of cavities - a person who has stained teeth
No. 4

Tooth Staining

Caries begins as a white spot on enamel.

The carious lesion changes colour as the demineralization continues, and the underlying tooth structure appears as a brown or black spot.
Symptom of cavities - a young man uses his hand to check his bad breath
No. 5

Bad Breath

Because of the deterioration of enamel and dentine, tooth decay smells sulfurous.

As the bacteria ingest those substances, they release gas particles into the mouth, which causes the foul odour associated with cavities and decaying teeth.

Types of Cavities (Carious Lesion)






Involvement of cavities on the biting surfaces of teeth, such as:

1. Pits, fissures, buccal and lingual surfaces of premolars and molars.

2. Lingual surfaces of front teeth.
types of cavities - class 1 cavity
Involvement of cavities on the mesial and distal surfaces of back teeth.
types of cavities - class 2 cavity
Involvement of cavities on the mesial and distal surfaces of front teeth.
types of cavities - class 3 cavity
Involvement of cavities on the front teeth's mesial, distal surfaces and incisal edges.
types of cavities - class 4 cavity
Involvement of cavities in the cervical areas of incisors, canines, premolars, and molars.
types of cavities - class 5 cavity

Causes of Tooth Decay

Development of Plaque

The covering of teeth in a transparent, sticky coating is called dental plaque.

It will build up on your teeth if you don't thoroughly brush them after meals. 

Tartar forms when plaque hardens under or above the gum line.

Plaque is harder to remove when tartar is present and also acts as a barrier for germs to hide behind.

Attack of Plaque

Bacteria in plaque liberate acids that can destroy minerals from the hard outer enamel.

Because of enamel degradation, the early onset of cavities begins.

Bacteria can also enter the dentin layer of your teeth if the enamel wears away.

This dentin layer is least resistant to plaque acids than enamel.

Dentin contains tubules that connect directly to the tooth's nerves, making the tooth sensitive.

Progression of Tooth Destruction

As tooth decay progresses, the cariogenic bacteria move closer to the pulp.

Bacteria cause swelling and irritation of the pulp.

Since there is no room for the swelling to expand inside a tooth, the nerve gets pressed, causing pain.

When a tooth gets infected, pain can radiate from its root to the bone.

Risk Factors

Tooth decay is more likely to affect some people than others.

It doesn’t mean that no one is susceptible to tooth decay.

Among the risk factors are:
Negligence in brushing and flossing.
Excessive consumption of sweets or acidic beverages.
The back teeth are more prone to cavities because of pits and fissures, which allow easy entrapment of food substances. As a result, brushing your back teeth is more complex than brushing your front teeth.
A lack of fluoride intake.
Many young American children and adolescents suffer from cavities. The risk of cavities in older people is higher. This occurrence of cavities is because of poor oral hygiene and other systemic illnesses such as diabetes, rendering their teeth more prone to cavities. Using medications that restrict saliva also increases tooth decay risk in the elderly.
Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia are prevalent.
Acid reflux disease can erode enamel by the stomach's acid.
Brushing too vigorously, or not enough at all. If you don't brush your teeth right after eating or drinking, plaque will quickly build up, and tooth decay occurs.

Complications From Dental Cavities

Complications From Dental Cavities - Image of a dental x-ray undergoing rct therapyComplications From Dental Cavities - Image of a dental fistula
Complications From Dental Cavities - Image of a tooth with a gum swellingComplications From Dental Cavities - Image of a tooth with extensive destruction
Complications From Dental Cavities - Image of a person placing his hand towards the painful tooth
Cavities can cause complications if not treated. Among them are:
Persistent toothache.
Cysts form below the roots of the infected tooth.
Pus that forms below the gums.
Sinus tract forms next to the infected tooth.
Extensive destruction of tooth structure.
Chewing difficulties.


The best way to treat tooth decay depends on how bad the symptoms are. There are different ways to treat cavities.

Treatment at an Early Stage

When applied early enough by the dentist, treatment with fluoride can help restore damaged tooth structure and avoid future decay.


A dentist removes a decayed tooth structure using a drill.

Dentists fill the missing tooth structure with gold, amalgam, or composite resin.

Root Canal Therapy

If the decay of the tooth extends towards the nerves, dentists will perform a procedure called root canal therapy.

The decayed tooth structure and infected pulp tissue are removed in this procedure.

Then the root canal space is disinfected and filled with a suitable root canal filling material.


If your tooth has extensive deterioration, impressions of teeth are taken by dentists, and impressions are sent to the lab for crown fabrication.

For a crown to be placed on a tooth, the tooth must first have the cavity filled and then have its size reduced.


Dentists may perform an extraction if tooth decay destroys most tooth structures to avoid further complications.

Prevention of Cavities

You can prevent cavities by adopting proper oral hygiene. Here are some tips to keep your teeth in good shape.
Brush your teeth with a Sonicare toothbrush or a manual toothbrush twice a day
Use a water flosser or a dental floss to floss your teeth once a day. Regular flossing reduces the risk of cavities and gum diseases.
It would be best if you did twice regular dental checkups in a year. Dentists might recommend you for a professional dental cleaning to remove stains and tartar build-up on tooth surfaces. These dental cleanings help to prevent gum disease and dental caries.
Certain medical conditions make you more vulnerable to cavities. In order to lessen the likelihood of cavities, dentists may recommend antibacterial mouthwash or other treatments.
Reduce your intake of acidic and sugary foods such as sweets, candies, juice, soda, and refined carbs.
Reduce your snacking between meals.
Disease control centres recommend sealants for school-aged children. A dentist must regularly check the sealants to ensure the sealants normal function.
Dentists often recommend fluoride treatments, particularly if you aren't getting enough fluoride from fluoridated drinking water or other sources. Dentists may also recommend custom-made fluoride-filled trays for individuals at high risk for dental cavities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a cavity heal on its own?

Our teeth do not have any regenerative properties to heal on their own. So when a cavity develops, the tooth starts the repair process to ease symptoms of cavities, but the cavity present on the tooth remains. Before a tooth resumes its normal function, a dentist should identify and fill the cavity.

How do I check myself for cavities?

You can check for cavities in two ways:
● Take a torch and approach towards the mirror to check which tooth has got a cavity.

● You can examine a cavity with a toothpick, if it is not apparent in the mirror.

What happens if a cavity goes untreated?

Untreated cavities can cause irreversible pulpitis. Irreversible pulpitis refers to inflammation of pulp which leads to spontaneous pain. The pain does not resolve on its own. In this state, if we leave irreversible pulpitis untreated, complications such as cysts, abscesses, and bone infection can arise. If you are experiencing any tooth pain, consult with a dentist immediately. Doing so will help avoid any future complications.

Can salt stop tooth decay?

Although salt cannot stop tooth decay, it can ease some discomfort associated with tooth decay. It would be best to practice regular brushing twice daily, water rinse after meals, and flossing to prevent further tooth decay.

Do cavities go away after filling?

Cavities are something that will never go away on their own, not even after being filled. The purpose of filling is to mask the cavity and prevent bacteria and food particles from entering the cavity. For any reason, if the filling placed on tooth cannot provide long-lasting effect, you can see a cavity on that tooth but with a different appearance, not like the tooth which has been previously affected with cavities.


Cavities are a common problem and can lead to many other health problems if not treated correctly.

The best way to prevent them is to keep your teeth clean and healthy.

If you have a cavity, there is nothing to worry about, make sure you consult with a dentist ASAP.