Not-So-Sweet Tooth: Cavity Symptoms For Early Detection
As we age, we often interpret our body’s aches and pains as unavoidable consequences of getting older — however, if you detect cavity symptoms, there is still plenty you can do for your health.
According to the National Institutes of Health, cavities are the second-most prevalent health problem in the United States with over 3 million cases each year, being beaten out only by the common cold. They are often painful, worsen over time, and also quite preventable and treatable if you catch these cavity symptoms early in their development.
We may lose some things over time, but your oral health is not something you need to sacrifice.
How Cavities Form
Cavities, also called tooth decay or caries, are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop over time into tiny openings or holes. As your tooth enamel softens due to decay from the acids that are created when plaque bacteria break down sugars in your mouth, your tooth is left susceptible to further damage, which is when cavities form.
If left untreated, these plaque acids can continue to eat away at the next layer of the tooth, the dentin, and cause a root cavity that is both more painful and more complicated to fix.
As the Mayo Clinic observes, cavities may be caused by a number of factors, but the development of tooth decay follows the same process regardless of the cause. First, the consumption of excess sugars and starches, which, if not cleaned from the teeth, permit bacteria to feed on them to create dental plaque. This plaque then hardens on the teeth and begins to remove minerals from the tooth’s enamel, eating away into little holes, which is the first stage of cavities. Once the enamel is worn away, the bacteria and acid can continue to the dentin, which is connected to the nerve of the tooth, and even the inner tooth material, or the pulp, that contains nerves and blood vessels.
As the cavity develops, its damage multiplies, causing greater pain and longer-term damage with each day it goes untreated, making it especially important to catch cavity symptoms as early as possible.
Cavity Symptom #1: A Persistent Toothache
As a general rule, pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is going right; however, a lot of times we push through and ignore them. In the case of your teeth, to leave these persistent pains unaddressed is to ignore the most obvious cavity symptom, which will only lead to more problems — and greater pain.
“Pain is often a [cavity symptom], and pain can be in the gums below the tooth or the tooth itself,” explains Dr. Eric Klein. “Sometimes you have a sharp, acute pain or it may be a dull, throbbing pain, and both are signs of a cavity.”
Cavity Symptom #2: Pain While Chewing
To continue the emphasis on responding to pain, even if a toothache only occurs while chewing and doesn’t persist between meals, that is still a major cavity symptom to acknowledge and a sign that your teeth are in trouble.
Usually felt in a sharp, sudden jolt, pain while chewing is usually an indication that the tooth has a crack in it or because the tooth has a cavity, according to Dr. Klein, and may signal that the nerve in the tooth is even infected.
Cavity Symptoms #3: Discoloration
Thankfully, you don’t have to wait for your teeth to start hurting to catch a cavity symptom early. While cavities eventually appear as small holes in the enamel, some may begin by resembling stains on the surface of your tooth. Natural stains may blemish your smile from time to time, but black, brown, or white spots are usually the early signs of tooth decay.
If these stains feel soft or sticky to the touch, they are a likely cavity symptom and may soon cause the rest of the tooth to darken and eventually chip the enamel, as Colgate’s health professionals explain.
Cavity Symptoms #4: Holes In Teeth
Sometimes the obvious signs are the most overlooked, as is the case with cavity symptoms. As cavities are holes that develop in the enamel from mouth bacteria’s breakdown of plaque into acid, the most obvious cavity symptom to spot would be visible in your teeth.
Nonetheless, few people take the time to inspect their teeth, even while brushing or flossing, and therefore may not see the hole developing in the infected tooth. Always check your teeth for evident holes to catch the cavity symptom as soon as possible.
Cavity Symptom #5: Swelling Around The Tooth
As the Mayo Clinic notes, swelling may occur in the gums around the infected tooth as a cavity develops, especially if it has dug deep into the dentin or the pulp. Often, this swelling is barely perceptible to the eye and hardly painful to the touch, but a bit of discomfort may reveal that the gums are indeed swollen due to a cavity.
“If you have a really deep cavity, it makes the nerve sick or die, and that causes an infection in a nerve that causes swelling,” says Dr. Klein. “Some people feel swelling and it doesn’t even hurt, but that’s caused from the infection.”
Cavity Symptom #6: Sensitivity To Temperature
According to the American Dental Association, one in four adults has an untreated cavity, and virtually every adult will experience tooth decay at some point in their lives. One of the most common cavity symptoms to watch is sensitivity to temperatures, such as hot foods or cold drinks, that may trigger sudden pain or discomfort in the affected tooth.
“Every tooth has a nerve inside of it, and it also has a blood supply to help the tooth grow and function,” says Dr. Klein. “When a cavity gets larger and closer to that nerve, it can sense the change in temperature easier.”
Cavity Symptom #7: Bad Breath
Though a myriad of factors may cause bad breath, it may be more than a sign you’ve indulged in too much garlic during dinner — bad breath is one of the often overlooked cavity symptoms. As cavities are fundamentally small holes in the tooth, food particles and bacteria may easily sneak their way in there and be hard to evict with simple brushing techniques alone.
“A cavity is caused by acid and sugar breaking a hole in the enamel, and then bacteria can get in that hole,” says Dr. Klein. “Bacteria can cause odor and a bad taste in the mouth.”
There is a range of treatments the professionals at Chicago Beautiful Smiles can provide to address your cavity symptoms, depending on the severity of the problem.
Sometimes, periodic fluoride treatments may be necessary to battle ongoing cavity symptoms, as you may not be receiving enough fluoride through sources such as fluoridated drinking water. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic recognizes antibacterial treatments as especially helpful for those whose medical history may make their teeth more susceptible to tooth decay.
If you’re experiencing more than one of these cavity symptoms, the best treatment will likely be a filling, which is when the decayed portion of the tooth is drilled away and replace with a strong filling of composite resins. Crowns and fillings may be required for more advanced cavities, but overall, fillings stop cavities from growing any larger.
At Beautiful Smiles Dental Center in Gurnee, IL, your smile is our priority, which often begins with addressing that first cavity symptom as soon as you notice it.