How will I know if I have a cavity?

Decay can manifest itself in different ways depending on the individual. Some people have sensitivity to sweets and salty foods, others have no symptoms at all. The best way to know if you have a cavity is to see a dentist and have x-rays taken.
The best way to find out if you have cavities is by visiting your dentist, as he/she will conduct oral examinations. Many cavities are not easily visible and people often don't know they have them.
You should see a dentist if you suspect that you have a cavity in your tooth. Only a dentist is properly trained to diagnose and treat a cavity. Possible warning signs for a cavity could be: pain in a tooth, discoloration of a tooth, and a hole or broken area of a tooth.
Peggy Rosen
To find out if you have cavity you need to see the dentist for an oral examination. The dentist can identify a cavity through the use of different tools:
  • Visual examination tools: dental (mouth) mirrors - provide a way for the dentist to see all areas in the mouth; dental explorer -- the tool use to find small cavities.
  • Laser
  • X-rays -- find hidden cavities
  • Intraoral camera
Cavities are holes in the teeth caused by tooth decay, but you may not know you have any cavities when they are in their early stages. You may however, have a cavity with advanced tooth decay if you are experiencing a persistent toothache made worse by drinking hot or cold liquids or eating cold foods. A dentist can pinpoint cavities during a regular dental exam or by using x-rays for those cavities not yet visible to the eye.
Surprisingly, the large majority of cavities are completely painless. The outer enamel of the tooth, after all, has no nerves.

Only when a cavity enters the underlying dentin will the cavity begin to feel sensitive. When you have a cavity, the most common symptom is an increased sensation to sweet and/or cold foods and beverages.

Patients can be taken off-guard when they find out they have a few cavities even though they don't have any symptoms. But it is much better to treat a small cavity than to wait until symptoms (like pain) appear. By that time the cavity may have spread and infected the dental pulp. Then, you might need a root canal procedure or even an extraction to eliminate the infection. Regular dental examinations (twice a year or more) will greatly reduce the likelihood that a cavity will spread, causing pain and infecting the pulp.

Cavities are discovered in several ways. The most common are clinical and x-ray exams. During a clinical exam, the dentist uses a hand-held explorer to probe the tooth surface for cavities. If it "catches," the explorer has found a weak, acid damaged section of the tooth, a cavity. Dentists can also find cavities just by looking. Discolored (usually brown or black) teeth can indicate a dental cavity. X-rays, especially check-up or bitewing x-rays, are useful in finding cavities wedged between teeth, or under the gum-line. "Hidden" cavities like these are difficult or impossible to find visually or with the explorer. Sometimes, none of these methods are adequate. In that case, a dentist must use a special disclosing solution to find a suspicious area on a tooth.

Continue Learning about Cavities

What is tooth decay?
Russell P. Fitton III., DDSRussell P. Fitton III., DDS
Tooth decay is the disease process that causes tooth destruction. It is caused by bacteria on the to...
More Answers
What is the most severe type of cavity decay?
Jerry P. Gordon, DMDJerry P. Gordon, DMD
Most dentists would say that a condition called rampant caries is the most severe form of tooth deca...
More Answers
How does tooth decay affect my body?
William M. Litaker Jr., DDSWilliam M. Litaker Jr., DDS
Tooth decay can affect your body. At first your tooth may be sensitive and you may avoid eating cert...
More Answers
Are cavities serious?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
Cavities can become serious if they are not treated property or treated early. A filling helps preve...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.