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  • Writer's pictureDr Gautam Herle

The seven tell-tale signs of cavities

Plaque is more than unsightly. Left long enough, it can cause tooth decay, which can bring about cavities. Plaque is the end result of bacteria build-up on your teeth and gums, helped in no small part by sugar, which generates tooth-decaying acid.

What do cavities look like?

Cavities can be sneaky. They can take on different colours, from a whitish or chalky appearance on your teeth, or the more serious cases, which can look brown or even black. Having said that, there are , very few easily-identified signs. So how do you know if you have a cavity when there are no early cavity signs? An X-ray at a dentist visit can easily illuminate the problem. It’s just another great reason to keep up with your regular six-month dental check-ups.

The signs can vary, and all depend on several factors, including the severity of the cavity and on which tooth, or teeth, it sits. Like most maladies, the more serious or severe it gets, the more easily its identified. Plaque leads to decay, and the bigger the decay gets, the more significant the cavity will be.

But like so many ailments, especially around your teeth, you can take early steps to head off the development of plaque before it becomes a cavity. The following are seven symptoms which, when identified early enough, can be acted upon so things don’t get out of hand.

1. Bad breath

You may have just eaten garlic, cheese or onions (or all three, for some reason) and that’s having a negative impact on your breath. Or, you may have had a cavity bring on the bad breath, stemming from an infected area which has collected food particles and become a bacteria breeding ground. No matter the amount of brushing, flossing and rinsing is ridding you of the bad taste or breath, which is a good sign you have yourself a cavity that needs attention.

2. Pain

Meals are supposed to be enjoyed, but nothing will take away that sense of enjoyment if every time you bite down, you get a sharp pain in your tooth. That sharp pain is a good sign that there’s a cavity making its way through your teeth, and even if it isn’t, you should get it looked at by your dentist.

3. Toothache

General toothaches can be unbearable – they can manifest as a throbbing, insatiable pain that will ruin your day, keep you awake at night and cause you all kinds of stress. A cavity can oftentimes begin with mild or no pain at all, making it hard to detect. Ignore it at your peril, however. Unlike the point above, this pain won’t just happen when you bite down on something.

4. The colour is ‘off’

Teeth will be stained and have colouring on them that appears ‘not normal’ when they’re essentially healthy – that’s just wear and tear that comes from consuming food and drinks that aren’t white. But a spot or what looks like a stain on your tooth that’s bright white, brown , perhaps black could either be a decay-causing symptom of a cavity. It could be, but you’ll want it checked just to be sure.

5. Heat and cold

You may notice some degree of pain when you have food or drinks that are either especially cold (like ice cream, or chilled drinks) or food that’s hot (temperature hot, not necessarily spicy-hot) Sweet food and drinks can also trigger these responses, and alert you early on to a potential or developing cavity. Again, it’s usually something that should be investigated further by your dentist because it could be a cavity, but it could be something else altogether.

6. General sensitivity

A cavity can have an impact on the relative sensitivity you feel, ranging from mild to severe. This sensitivity presents itself as a very common symptom of a cavity. You can never really be too careful when it comes to your teeth.

7. Holes

If you see a hole or pit in your tooth, it’s never a good thing – and is something that may need the attention of your dentist. It may be nothing of concern, but let’s just err on the safe side, shall we?

Preventing cavities

Preventing cavities between visits to the dentist is as easy as twice-daily brushing and flossing, using quality dental care products, and – of course – cutting back, or better still, eliminating sugary foods and drinks. Prevention is always better than a cure.

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