They’re the age-old subject of warnings from your dentist and one of the most common instances of early-stage tooth decay, but what does a cavity look like? Millions of people experience cavities every year, and while most people understand from an early age that they’re bad for your oral health, there are some common misconceptions about what they are and how to prevent cavities.

What Is a Cavity and How Common Are They?

Cavities are essentially small holes in your teeth that penetrate the hard layer of enamel, allowing bacteria and other harmful substances to access the inner structures of the teeth. This is bad news for your teeth because once bacteria penetrate the hard outer layer of your teeth, it can cause painful infection and decay deep in the root of the tooth—and even into the jaw bone if left untreated long enough.

Cavities happen as one of the tooth decay stages and are an indicator that something is off when it comes to your oral health. While cavities should be taken seriously, they are also incredibly common and most dentists are well-equipped to treat them.

What Does a Cavity Look Like and How Do They Form?

We’ve already stated that cavities are holes in your teeth, but the size and severity of those holes can vary greatly—and multiple cavities can be present in one tooth. Some cavities are so small they can only be seen on an X-ray; this also happens to be the optimal time to catch a cavity as it can be treated quickly before it worsens. Other cavities, especially ones that have gone untreated, can look like gaping holes in the side of the tooth, even exposing the root inside. If you’re wondering how to get rid of cavities this size, the answer is that it’s almost impossible. Advanced treatments like crowns, root canals, or even extraction of the tooth might be necessary.

Cavities form due to the presence of harmful acid in your mouth, which can wear away at the enamel over time. This acid can come from the food and drinks you consume—sodas, citrus, and fruit juices are especially problematic—but it can also come from the natural bacteria in your mouth. This bacteria feeds on sugar and produces acid as a byproduct. Over time, the bacteria form a sticky film on your teeth called plaque, which will corrode the enamel and tooth structure underneath. Eventually, this plaque creates a small hole that grows the longer it’s untreated, resulting in a cavity. A sugary or starchy diet, poor brushing and flossing, and skipping dental checkups can all contribute to the formation of cavities

Tooth Decay Symptoms

Cavities are one of the most obvious signs of tooth decay, and even if you can’t physically see your cavity, there are plenty of symptoms to let you know that it’s there.


As the enamel wears away, the porous inner part of the tooth is exposed. As the decay penetrates further into the tooth, it can start to affect the sensitive nerve endings inside resulting in pain. You may notice a dull, throbbing ache that gets consistently worse, or sharp pangs when you eat some hot, cold, or especially sugary.


Sensitivity is similar to pain in that it is caused by the exposure of the root and nerve to external stimuli like heat or cold. If you drink or eat something hot or cold and experience pain that doesn’t go away after 30 seconds or so, you may have a cavity.

Bad Breath

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria, which can also create an unpleasant smell as it breaks down organic compounds in your mouth. If you regularly brush your teeth and floss but still notice you have foul breath, it could be a sign of a cavity or even gum disease.

When to Visit a Dentist?

You should be seeing a dentist for a cleaning and examination every six months, and during one of your visits, your dentist should take radiograph (X-ray) images of your teeth. These radiographs are excellent for spotting cavities even before they start showing other symptoms, and allow your dentist to treat them quickly and efficiently.

However, if you are between visits and notice persistent pain or discomfort that is impeding your ability to eat the things you usually enjoy, swelling around the gums, or bleeding, make an appointment to get checked out for cavities.

How to Get Rid of Cavities?

Unfortunately, you can’t regain the lost tooth material a cavity takes away. If the cavity has only affected the enamel, you can use fluoride and other chemicals to remineralize the enamel to strengthen it and halt the cavity’s progress. However, if the inner layer of your tooth called the dentin is compromised, your only option for treatment is a filling.

Fillings are simple operations wherein your dentist will numb your tooth and surrounding tissues with a local anesthetic before drilling away the affected part of your tooth. Then, they’ll fill the resulting hole with a dental-grade polymer that looks and feels like your natural tooth before hardening it shaping the final result.

However, just because fillings are simple operations doesn’t mean that treatment is better than prevention. Fillings weaken the integrity of your teeth the more you get, and are no replacement for your own natural, healthy teeth.

How To Stop Tooth Decay

The best way to stop tooth decay is with consistent preventive measures. Brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush, flossing, and using fluoride toothpaste will help prevent most major instances of tooth decay. However, if your oral hygiene is consistent and you’re still experiencing cavities, you may have to make some dietary changes. Avoiding sugar and starches removes the food that bacteria use to produce plaque, especially when it comes to soda and candy. Also, drinking plenty of water helps rinse your mouth and increase saliva production, which neutralizes acids in your mouth.

Finally, you can ask your dentist about preventive dentistry treatments like supplemental fluoride treatments, prescription for strength toothpaste, and more. If you think you might have a cavity, are experiencing tooth pain or other symptoms, or have any questions about your oral health in general, we’re proud to offer family dentistry services for patients of all ages. Call Champagne Family Dentistry and let our team of experienced professionals help you find the solution that works for your smile. Call today to set up a consultation and take charge of your oral healthcare.