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What Does a Cavity Look Like?

What does a cavity look like
Cavities, sounds familiar? Every other toothpaste ad keeps mentioning cavities. Mothers keep telling their kids not to eat sweets, or they will develop cavities. Dentists keep telling patients to maintain dental hygiene, otherwise, they will have cavities. What is cavity? […]

Cavities, sounds familiar? Every other toothpaste ad keeps mentioning cavities. Mothers keep telling their kids not to eat sweets, or they will develop cavities. Dentists keep telling patients to maintain dental hygiene, otherwise, they will have cavities. What is cavity? What does a cavity look like?

So what is a cavity that everyone talks so much about? What could be the signs of having a cavity? And how to know if you have a cavity or not? These are begging questions that this article will provide you potent answers to, read on to get more informed. 

What is a Cavity?

A cavity is usually known as Tooth Decay or Caries. It is the permanently decayed part of the teeth that results in tiny holes, caused by numerous factors. The word cavity refers to ‘a space within a solid object’- that explains the hole or dark spot that is seen in the hard surface of the teeth due to cavities.

Cavities/tooth decay is a very common dental issue and a large number of people report to experience cavities per year. It can be observed in infants, teenagers, and adults. And if not treated on time-these cavities can make a deep hole in your teeth, causing unbearable pain and other severe symptoms. If left untreated, dental caries can result in severe toothache and ultimately tooth loss.

Signs/Symptoms of Cavity/Tooth Decay

The appearance or severity of signs and symptoms of cavities depends largely on the degree of the decay, and the location. These are the signs and symptoms that can result as the cavity progresses:


Early stages of cavities usually do not show any symptoms. However, as tooth decay advances, you may feel tooth pain while eating or drinking. The pain may result randomly even when there is no apparent cause.

Tooth Sensitivity:  

tooth sensetivity

Cavities make your teeth react to temperature. Thus, when you eat something cold or hot with such teeth, you may experience mild or sharp pain, which will result in an increased toothache.

Dark Spots: 

dark spot on teeth

You will observe a spot on the tooth, which may vary from discolored white to black. Usually, it feels like a patch on the tooth, you’ll spot these patches in your back teeth-molars or premolars. Molars and premolars have grooves in them which are the best places for tooth decay to happen.

Swollen Gums:  

Cavities also affect the roots of the teeth, which are submerged in the gums. As result, you’ll experience swollen or red gums, right beside your tooth. It may even lead to gum bleeding.

Tooth Holes:  

Decay properties of the cavity will make the tooth weak which will allow the tooth to lose its structure and you may observe a tiny hole or crack in your tooth.

Bad Breath:  

bad smell

Bleeding gums and the decaying tooth will surely make many bacteria guests in your mouth. That would cause bad breath, which even on using mouth-fresheners won’t go away.

Cavities make themselves known with various ranges of symptoms. But one may not experience the symptoms for a long time until the decay has become alarming. So how can we know if we have a cavity or not? Let’s see what the cavity looks like, but first, how are they caused?

Causes of Cavity

Sugary foods and beverages are considered the major cause of cavities. The sugar consumed gets combined with the plaque on your tooth and weakens the enamel of teeth. This causes plaque bacteria to attack that sugar and break down into acids-which in result cause tooth decay. But some other causes also lie behind cavities.

Plaque Formation:

plaque formation

 Taking up food and drinks can create a layer of plaque over your teeth- and if not removed regularly, this plaque adheres to your teeth and causes acid to create holes in your teeth.

Poor Oral Hygiene:

 Leaving your teeth unattended for long also results in cavities. As left-over food on the teeth continuously becomes the target of bacteria.

Eating & Drinking Habits:

 Consuming a lot of sweet food items and consuming them at improper time is the major cause. The balanced intake of such foods and following proper hygiene routine can avoid cavities- but taking up sugary foods right before bed or early in the morning can severely damage your teeth.

Medical Disorders:  

Other reasons could involve specific medical issues like mouth cancer etc. its treatment through radiation can cause the change of makeup of saliva-which in result promotes a tooth cavity.

Cavity Formation

Having mentioned the various elements that can lead to the formation of cavities, let us consider the process of the cavity formation. There are three stages in the process of cavity formation, they are plaque formation, plaque attack, and the cavity formation. The initial stage is the plaque that forms around the enamel of the teeth due to residual sugar and starch, Plaques are slimy or sticky films that surround the teeth when excess sugar and starch are not properly cleaned from the teeth.

Plaque formation is enhanced by the bacteria that begin to feed on the residual sugar and starch on the teeth. The plaque can become hardened and difficult to remove when they become tartar causing a shield for the bacteria. As the sugar is broken down, there is the formation of acid which causes a gentle eroding of the enamel. 

The acid attack on the minerals of the enamel layer is the Plaque attack. Due to the enamel being worn away, tiny holes are created which allows the bacteria to proceed further into the dentin of the teeth. This layer is softer than the enamel and gives easy access to the nerve cells causing tooth sensitivity. 

The decay continues deeper into the pulp causing inflammation and irritation due to the bacteria. This is the source of the pain that results from the decay due to the swelling. The cavity goes through the enamel down to the pulp.

What does a Cavity look like?
The appearance of the cavity varies along with its size. As the cavity becomes bigger, its appearance becomes different.

A small cavity looks like a small hole in the tooth. If examined closely, one will see damaged enamel of the tooth and chalky white area around it which represents the decay of the tooth. As the cavity advances, one will observe a crack in the tooth as well, along with a more deep-rooted cavity. Such cavities reach the tooth roots and cause more destruction than small cavities.

Types of cavities

So, if you want to know “what does a cavity looks like on a tooth?” Its answer varies according to its stage. Its appearance on the enamel of the tooth varies from wheatish to dark brown or black.

Cavities also vary from tooth to tooth and from infant to older people. One may have several cavities at a time, but most common cavities are found in the molar and premolar tooth. 

  • Cavity on a Molar?

Well, the problem with molars and premolars is their groovy structure. This structure allows more food to remain trapped in them leading to more possibility of tooth decay. Also, molars and premolars allow deep tooth decay, which then directly attacks the dentin and nerves which is highly destructive and causes unbearable toothache.

However, that’s not the case with the front tooth cavity.

  • Cavity on the front tooth?

These cavities are easiest to spot and are not deep-rooted as well. However, they may harm your appearance. Cavities on the front tooth appear as brown or black spots or small holes. Usually, these cavities are on tooth enamel, which keeps them away from nerve endings. Resultantly, one may not feel much pain during eating or drinking.

So that’s how cavities look like on the back and front tooth. But how do they appear in different age groups?

  • Cavity in a toddler/infant:

Toddlers and infants are more prone to cavities. As an early sign of decay, small white splotches can be seen on their gums-which may later develop into cavities. Swollen gums and light brown discoloration on the toddler’s tooth also indicates the presence of a cavity. 

  • Cavity in Adults:

Adults usually observe dark or cloudy spots on their teeth-in which teeth lose their important minerals, known as demineralization. The spot changes its color according to its growth. Beginning from chalky white to later stages with dark brown or black color. Adults can easily detect such cavities with the naked eye.

pit cavity

But not all cavities could be observed with the naked eye. Some very small cavities are hard to locate. Thus, dentists prefer tooth x-ray to look out for such cavities. 

  • Cavity on X-ray:

Cavity on x-ray shows its detailed growth in the tooth. Usually, the cavity appears as a black or white spot or shadow on the tooth in an x-ray. Dentists also observe the size of the hole the cavity has caused and its depth in the tooth. The X-ray also shows damage in the enamel of the tooth and dentists can locate multiple cavities from a single x-ray. The chalky white area around the decay appears as the bright spot in the x-ray.

Cavities may appear different on different teeth or age groups-but its damaging effects cause harm equally to everyone.  

Solutions to Cavities?

Unfortunately, one cannot reverse the damage of cavities, but cavities could be halted at an early stage with proper care.

The damaged tooth is usually covered with tooth fillings and enamel is also re-done on such teeth. But one can prevent cavities by taking simple steps of care.

  • Brush your teeth every day and night before bedtime
  • Limit the consumption of sugary foods
  • Use high-fluoride toothpaste
  • Maintain oral hygiene as much as you can
  • Do visit your dentist frequently and keep a check on your tooth

Such baby steps of oral hygiene can prevent cavities. But everyone must know what a cavity looks like, to detect it at an early stage. Adults should keep looking if they have cavities or not and for toddlers, their parents have to do this job. Teeth are an important part of our body and maintaining their integrity is necessary. 

Nothing is more important than keeping up with the personal care and hygiene of your teeth. Also, never hesitate to visit your dentist for regular checks. Watch out for signs like tooth sensitivity, bleeding gum, and sharp pains in your gum. It is best to combat cavities at an early stage than wait till it goes deep into the pulp cavity. Remember your dentition is an important part of your appearance.

Florance Reeves

Florance Reeves is skincare, Wellness and Health expert and professional content writer. She likes to research skincare and wellness products and experiments. She has experience with skincare, wellness and health products for more than 10 years.

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