The Most Common Symptoms of Cavities & Tips for Prevention

For most people, cavities come as an unwanted surprise, only discovered by their dentist during a regular dental checkup. But to prevent cavities from progressing to the point of serious tooth decay, it’s important to be on the lookout for their most common signs so you can have cavities treated by your dentist sooner rather than later.


A cavity is a hole in a tooth created by acid that wears down tooth enamel. This acid is produced by plaque bacteria feeding on food particles and sugars in your mouth.

If left untreated, cavities can grow larger and deeper, destroying teeth, causing painful tooth abscesses, and even becoming life-threatening if an infection enters your bloodstream.


Cavities occur when plaque bacteria are left to feed and multiply on your teeth. During feeding, this bacteria creates an acid that erodes tooth enamel, the protective surface of a tooth.

Regular brushing and flossing can help to remove this plaque bacteria and prevent cavities. But without a regular oral health routine, you risk having more enamel erosion and cavities forming in your teeth.


The following are the most common signs of a cavity:

Tooth Sensitivity

Sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks can be a sign of a cavity, especially if the sensitivity lingers after eating. When the tooth enamel wears down, it exposes the layer below it, called the dentin.

Dentin is the hard-tissue layer of the tooth that contains microscopic hollow tubes. So when there is no longer a layer of enamel to protect the dentin, hot and cold foods will stimulate the nerves inside your tooth, causing sensitivity.


Tooth pain is a very common symptom of a cavity. Toothaches stemming from a cavity may occur from the pressure of biting down on food or eating certain foods. And these toothaches can be sudden or ongoing.

Visible Holes and Pits in Teeth

Since cavities are holes in teeth, having visible holes or pits in your teeth is a sure sign that you have a cavity. Sometimes, cavities are not visible because they are between the teeth instead of on top or on the side. But if you notice any type of hole, visit your dentist as soon as possible.

Sensitivity to Sweet Food and Drinks

Tooth sensitivity to sweet food and drinks is fairly common for those with cavities, and it is also a red flag that a cavity is starting. Like sensitivity to hot and cold, sensitivity to sugary food indicates that the tooth enamel is worn down and the dentin is exposed.

Pain When Eating

Pain, when biting down or chewing on food, is another indicator that your tooth may have a cavity. If the pain is sharp, it could be a sign that the tooth pulp—inner tissue—is inflamed, and any pressure on that tooth will cause pain.

Staining on Teeth

Staining on the surface of a tooth is one of the first signs that a cavity is forming. A cavity stain may first start out as a white spot on the tooth and then become darker as the cavity progresses. Cavity stains may be white, brown, or black.


If you have any of the above signs of a cavity, visit your dentist as soon as possible. Your dentist can prevent cavities from forming or progressing into more serious problems that are painful and require more extensive treatments like root canals.

When treating a cavity, your dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth using a tiny drill. Once the decay is cleaned out, they will fill the hole with porcelain, composite resin, or amalgam. This filling will prevent further tooth decay and protect the inner tooth from sensitivity, pain, and bacteria infections.


Good oral hygiene is your first line of defence against cavities. So to ensure you make the most of your oral hygiene routine, follow these tips:

Brush Your Teeth Regularly and Properly

Brushing your teeth properly, especially before bed, is essential for preventing cavities. Otherwise, bacteria will feed on leftover food particles, create acid, and cause tooth decay.

Brush your teeth for at least two minutes, two to three times a day. Use a fluoride toothpaste, make sure to brush all sides of the teeth, brush in a circular motion, and also brush at a 45-degree angle at the gum line.

Floss Frequently

Flossing is just as important as brushing for cavity prevention since it helps clean away food particles and bacteria in areas your toothbrush can’t reach. So floss at least once a day with dental floss or a water flosser to clean between your teeth and below your gum line.

Cut Back on Sugary and Acidic Food and Drinks

Since the bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar from food and drinks, creating acid that wears down tooth enamel, limit the amount of sugar you eat and drink to help prevent cavities. The same goes for acidic food and drinks. So avoid sodas and fruit juices, and drink water instead.

Go For Regular Dental Checkups

To keep an eye on your oral health, visit your dentist at least every six months. Your dentist will examine your mouth for any signs of problems and address issues before they worsen.

Professional dental cleanings during your checkups also help prevent cavities by thoroughly cleaning plaque and tartar from your teeth and using fluoride treatments to help strengthen your tooth enamel.

Though cavities are fairly common, they have obvious tell-tale signs and are easily preventable. So follow these tips to maintain good oral health and prevent cavities. And if you suspect you already have one, visit your dentist as soon as possible to prevent the cavity from progressing into a more serious problem.