Common Signs That You Have a Cavity

Maintaining good overall health requires prioritizing the well-being of your teeth. A vital aspect of dental care is avoiding tooth decay or cavities, as this can significantly impact the health and condition of your teeth and may lead to other complications.

Unaddressed dental cavities affect almost 30% of adults in the United States.

What is a Cavity?

Plaque formation on teeth occurs when food and bacteria accumulate, and the bacteria in plaque produces acid that can erode the enamel on the tooth’s surface. Regular brushing and flossing can help eliminate plaque, preventing it from progressing to a cavity.

When left untreated, a cavity can create a hole in the tooth, leading to severe tooth decay and other complications like a tooth abscess or bloodstream infections that can be life-threatening. Certain areas in the mouth, such as the chewing surfaces of molars, gaps between teeth, and the bottom of teeth near gums, are more susceptible to plaque formation.

Frequent consumption of foods that cling to teeth, like dried fruit, hard candy, ice cream, soda, fruit juice, chips, and sugary treats, can increase the risk of cavities. While cavities are more common among children, adults are also at risk, especially if their gums begin to recede, exposing the tooth roots to plaque.

There are various signs that often indicate the beginning of a cavity as well as red flags that an existing cavity is getting larger. It’s important to recognize these signs and schedule a dental appointment as soon as possible if you suspect you have a cavity.

Here are some of the most common indicators that you may have a cavity:

Hot and Cold Sensitivity

Prolonged sensitivity after consuming hot or cold food may indicate the presence of a cavity. As tooth enamel erodes, the hard tissue layer called dentin beneath the enamel becomes affected. Dentin comprises numerous tiny hollow tubes.

When there is insufficient enamel to shield the dentin, consuming hot, cold, sticky, or acidic foods can activate the cells and nerves within the tooth, causing the sensitivity sensation you experience.

Lingering Sensitivity to Sweets

While hot and cold sensitivities are the most prevalent indicators of cavities, sensitivity to sweets and sugary drinks should not be overlooked as they could also signal the onset of tooth decay. Sweets sensitivity, akin to that of temperature, can often stem from enamel damage and the beginning stages of a cavity.


If you experience a persistent toothache, it may be a sign of a cavity. Pain is a prevalent symptom of cavities and can occur suddenly or be triggered by certain foods. In addition to tooth pain, you may feel discomfort in your mouth, and experience pressure while biting down on food.

A Hole or Pit in Your Tooth

An initial white spot on your tooth, which is a sign of the beginning of a cavity, can progress to a visible hole or pit that can be felt with your tongue or seen in the mirror. Although some cavities, particularly those in narrow spaces or crevices, may not be apparent to the naked eye, you may still experience discomfort or sensitivity in the affected area. The presence of a hole or pit in your tooth is a definite indication of tooth decay.


Initially, tooth stains caused by decay may manifest as white spots. As the decay progresses, the stain may become darker in color. The discoloration resulting from a cavity can be brown, black, or white, and typically occurs on the tooth’s surface.

Small cavities can lead to tooth decay and other serious issues if left unattended. It’s important to contact your dentist as soon as possible if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above. The earlier a cavity is detected, the less invasive and more effective the treatment is likely to be.

Have you been experiencing any of the symptoms listed above? Our friendly dental team at Dr. Michael E. Sullivan, DDS, PC is happy to help you achieve optimal oral health!

Call us at (630) 530-0770 or schedule an appointment with us online at