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Cavity Check: Detecting Tooth Decay Before It’s Too Late

Whether it’s a twinge of pain or a suspicious discoloration, ignoring potential cavity signs can lead to bigger issues down the line. Learn about the different types of cavities, early warning signs to watch for, and simple at-home checks you can do regularly. Remember, early detection leads to easier, more affordable treatment options and a healthier smile in the long run.

Visible Small Cavity Signs

You may not notice a cavity right away since the changes are visually small. Also, it’s possible to have a cavity and not feel anything.

However, even though small cavities may have visible changes, most people don’t examine their teeth routinely, especially those that are more difficult to see in the back of your mouth.Teeth in the back of the mouth are where cavities often occur. Cavities most commonly pop up on chewing surfaces and between teeth.1 Both of these areas are difficult to see yourself.

Warning signs of a cavity include:2

  • White spots on the teeth
  • Spots that turn darker shades of gray, brown, or black
  • Continually getting food trapped between your teeth

Invisible Cavities

An invisible cavity (also called a hidden cavity) is one you can’t see with the naked eye. Usually, that’s because the cavity is between teeth.

Dental X-rays can catch early cavities between teeth and those not yet visible on the tooth’s surface. Researchers have found that X-rays increase the diagnosis of hidden cavities by nearly 10 times.3

How Cavity Symptoms Feel (or Don’t Feel)

It can help to understand what a cavity feels like.

Cavity symptoms include:4

Researchers call cavities one of the most prevalent diseases among children globally.5

Untreated, Worsening Cavity Symptoms

Before a cavity begins, there are things you can do to prevent it. Some steps for reducing your risk of a cavity include:6

That said, once you have a cavity, it will likely continue to get worse if left untreated. A cavity spreading beyond the enamel could lead to an abscessed tooth (a severe infection).

An abscess might occur if the pulp (the soft tissue in the root) dies and swells. When bacteria enter the pulp, it causes an infection, leading to a pocket of pus that forms around the root. This infection can spread throughout the body and can sometimes be fatal.7

Symptoms of a tooth abscess include:8

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness in the gums
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Fever

Seeing a Dentist: How to Tell for Sure


While cavities offer some visual signs, they are not always on visible parts of your teeth. Cavities are sometimes in between teeth and in the back of your mouth. To be sure, you’ll need to see a dentist, who will visually examine your teeth and, if necessary, do an X-ray.

Cavity Inspection

Dentists use a visual inspection to determine if a cavity is present on a tooth. The International Caries Detection and Assessment System (ICDAS) is a clinical scoring system that measures surface changes and the depth of cavities. Cavities are coded between 0 and 6, with the lower score indicating a healthy tooth and the higher score showing extensive tooth damage.10

Cavity on X-Ray

An X-ray is the most definitive way to diagnose a cavity. X-rays allow dentists to see through layers of teeth to determine how severe a cavity is. This can inform their treatment plan. However, X-rays are not foolproof, and they sometimes underestimate the depth of a cavity.11

When you get a dental X-ray, a lead apron will cover your torso to protect your body and organs from radiation. X-ray film is placed in your mouth, and a healthcare provider will leave the room to take the X-ray.

When they return, they will remove the film from your mouth. The results are available for a dentist to review immediately.

Unsure if your symptoms point to a cavity? Schedule your next checkup and cleaning to maintain your dental health and prevent future problems. Call us today at 732-686-6337. Check more tips on our IG @monmouth_dental_arts.

And for our patients without insurance, we’ve got you covered! Introducing the Dental Advantage Plan, where you can enjoy discounts of 20% on most procedures. Plus, receive 1 FREE emergency exam with x-rays included once every year, and enjoy a 15% discount on limited exams after that! Take the first step towards affordable dental care by learning more at MonmouthDentalArts.com or simply give us a call at 732-686-6337. Your dental health is our priority!



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