How Do I Know If I Have A Cavity?

At Team Popp Dental, we believe that maintaining clean and healthy hygiene habits is an essential part of how your orthodontic treatment progresses. However, sometimes adjusting to a new routine that accommodates your new braces can be difficult, and patients struggle to keep up. While this is a common experience, it is crucial to upkeep good dental hygiene. Otherwise, the buildup of plaque and bacteria can cause those dreaded cavities. In this article, we will discuss how to detect cavities. Dr. Leah, Dr. Tom, Dr. Colton, Dr. Sam and the team at Team Popp Dental want to give you the rundown on everything you need to know about cavities and what you can do to prevent them.  

Cavities are one of the most common tooth problems that people of all ages face. They are formed when a build-up of plaque causes a tooth to start decaying. If left undetected, these tiny holes and narrow crevices can cause infections. If the affected area is left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss and cost much more money to repair or replace. Signs of a cavity often depend on how serious it is and where it’s located in the mouth. Usually, cavity symptoms are not noticeable until the area of tooth decay gets larger. However, there are ways to help prevent and find treatment if cavities are discovered in their very early stages. 

How do cavities form?

As plaque builds up around your teeth, it eats away at your tooth enamel until it reaches an area called the dentin. The dentin contains small hollow tubes or canals that allow heat, cold, acidic or sticky foods to stimulate the nerves and cells inside the tooth. This causes sensitivity in the tooth which can be very painful. Bacteria then eats the dentin until it reaches the blood vessels and nerves in the middle of your tooth. This is called the pulp. From the pulp, bacteria can spread to other areas in the mouth if you wait too long to treat a cavity. The bacteria attack more tooth tissue the longer you wait.

Symptoms of a cavity: Pain 

One of the most common early signs of a cavity is feeling pain. If you get a toothache, that means it’s time to see the dentist immediately. Don’t put it off. In the early stages of cavities, you might feel pain when you bite down on something you eat, like a piece of candy. In time, you will begin to experience tooth pain when you chew on something soft, and when it progresses further, you will experience consistent tooth pain.


With a cavity, you will likely experience tooth sensitivity that can range from mild to severe. Sensitivity is one of the most common symptoms of a cavity and can seem to occur out of nowhere. It can start to feel like a tingle or tickle in your teeth at certain times. As the cavity continues to spread, the tingle will become more painful. Your teeth feel sensitive due to the bacteria thinning down your tooth enamel. In the early stages, your tooth will occasionally react to certain foods, particularly candy and sweets. At other times, it might not feel sensitive. If your teeth feel sensitive, use sensitive toothpaste. Some people have naturally sensitive teeth. If the sensitive toothpaste doesn’t alleviate the problem, you probably have a cavity and should visit your dentist.

How Do I Know If I Have A Cavity?

Holes or pits in your teeth

Wondering what a cavity looks like? When you have a cavity, you may be able to see a tiny hole in the tooth where the decay is occurring. When looking for a hole in your teeth, it’s easier to see the bottom teeth in the mirror. Get a dental mirror to help you check your top teeth. If you can see a hole in your tooth, your cavity has most likely progressed. If you spot a hole on top of the tooth, run your tongue over it. If you feel a hole, it’s probably a cavity. You will most likely need several fillings or possibly a root canal if you have contracted an infection in your tooth. 

Dark spots or discoloration

When a cavity has not been treated over a long period, it will look like a dark spot has formed on the infected tooth. If your tooth is discolored, you might have a cavity. A dark spot appears on your tooth before holes form. There could be a hole there that you cannot see. Instead, a dark spot, usually gray, brown or black, may appear before the tooth starts to decay.  If you see this spot, bacteria has begun to make its way into your enamel.  A mark or stain on a tooth that appears bright white, brown or black could be another cavity symptom due to decay. Although it could be a natural stain, have a dentist check it out if you’re concerned.

Bad breath

As your tooth decays, bacteria spreads and penetrates the tooth. This leads to bad breath, also known as halitosis. The same bacteria that cause bad breath. Once the bacteria causes halitosis, persistent bad breath or even a bad taste can affect the patient. You even might notice it when you brush your teeth or your tongue. If you have halitosis, visit a dental professional. You might have a bad cavity. The sooner you address it, the sooner you can fix it, and the less money your dental treatment will cost you.

Abscessed tooth

A major symptom of a bad cavity is an abscessed tooth. This is when the bacteria infect the tooth until it begins to puss. An abscess can cause extreme pain, fever, and even swell your glands. They tend to puss immediately and should not be ignored or overlooked. Your dentist can help stop the pus and to prevent the abscess from getting worse by prescribing an antibiotic. An antibiotic can kill the bacteria that has spread through your tooth. It can also prevent it from spreading through other nearby areas of your mouth

How Do I Know If I Have A Cavity?

Let our team guide you to a healthier smile

Now you know the signs and how to tell if you have a cavity. If you recognize any of the warning signs, be sure to contact your dentist immediately. Maintaining consistency in your hygienic routine and remaining aware of your teeth are essential keys to avoiding cavities. At Team Popp Dental, we want to help the good people of Chattanooga get a shining smile. With our team of experts on hand, we’ll give you personalized treatment to fit your dental needs for better oral care. If you’re considering orthodontic treatment, please give us a call. We’ll be happy to get you started on your oral care journey!