Can you tell if you have a cavity by looking at it?

This blog post will address the topic, “can you tell if you have a cavity by looking at it” and cover topics like how does a cavity form, ways to tell if you have cavities or not, signs and symptoms that tell if you have a cavity, does cavity always mean bad oral hygiene, reasons why you get cavities even after good oral hygiene and how can cavities be prevented.

Can You Tell If You Have A Cavity By Looking At It?

Yes, you can tell if you have a cavity by looking at it. A cavity looks like a hole on the tooth through which you may see the bottom of the tooth with the help of a dental mirror.

Dental Cavity or tooth cavity, is a hole that develops on the surface of the tooth due to loss of mineral content from the enamel, resulting from the repeated acid attack by the plaque bacteria.

When you see a hole in your teeth or darkening of the teeth, you must consult your dentist as it may be a cavity.

How Does A Cavity Form?

Consumption of sugary and starch rich foods expose the tooth to acids frequently, resulting in mineral loss from the enamel.

Infrequent tooth brushing habits cause poor oral hygiene, resulting in plaque accumulation.

Plaque is a sticky film containing bacteria that coats the protective enamel of your teeth. These bacteria produce acids by breaking down the food debris and the acids penetrate the enamel leading to formation of white spots on the teeth.

The cavity formation takes place in 5 stages:


  • Appearance of the white spots on the surface of the tooth as the mineral loss begins from enamel due to bacterial acid attack.
  • This stage can be reversed with preventive actions and maintaining good oral hygiene.


  • If the white spots are ignored and no preventive actions are initiated, the repeated acid attacks wear down the mineral and enamel is decayed
  • Visible hole is seen and now the cavity becomes irreversible.


  • The decay moves down further and attacks the inner soft dentin
  • This is called as Advanced Cavity Stage
  • Slight pain and sensitivity starts


  • In this stage, the decay finally reaches the pulp and irritates the nerves
  • Pain, sometimes excruciating, Sensitivity and Discomfort is seen in this stage.
  • Root Canal is the only treatment option other than extraction.


  • After pulp involvement, if treatment is not initiated, the infection spreads to the surrounding structures of the tooth and inflammation is caused
  • Extreme pain and even tooth loss may result

7 Ways To Tell If You Have A Cavity Or Not

Clearly Visible Hole On Your Tooth

Cavity is a hole that can be seen or felt with the help of your tongue. Hole on your tooth or teeth is an indication that you might have a cavity formed.

Tooth Pain 

Pain in the tooth is an indication of cavity that has reached pulp. When cavity is ignored in its earliest stage, it deepens to enter dentin and finally enter pulp causing infection, resulting in pain.

If pain is felt in the tooth, it may be a cavity and you must consult your dentist.

Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is an indication of cavity reaching dentin. 

When the cavity in its earliest stage is not repaired or filled or healed naturally through good oral hygiene and calcium rich foods, it deepens and reaches dentin.

On reaching dentin, the dentinal tubules are exposed and sensitivity develops on eating or drinking something hot or cold or sugary.

Tooth Darkening

If you see your tooth getting darker in color, it may be due to tooth decay or cavity.

When cavity exposes pulp tissue, bacterial invasion occurs and pulp gets infected. 

Infection in the pulp is manifested as excruciating pain, sensitivity and darkening of the tooth.

At this stage, consult your dentist or an endodontist to get a root canal done.

If the tooth infection has destroyed the entire tooth, then extraction may be the only option.

Tooth Abscess And Pus 

Sometimes you may not notice a hole or you may not initially experience pain or sensitivity or you may experience an occasional pain and sensitivity that might be ignored by you.

In any of the above case, you miss out on noticing a cavity, resulting in cavity deepening and finally causing tooth abscess and pus accumulation around the infected tooth.

Bad Breath

Persistent bad breath may be an indication of poor oral hygiene and cavity formation. 

Cavity that deepens and results in tooth infection, causes halitosis which does not go away even after mouthwash or brushing.

If you have persistent bad breath, you must consult your dentist for an oral examination.

Tooth Fracture

If you notice your tooth fractured suddenly or after eating any hard food, then it must have developed a cavity. 

Cavity weakens your tooth and it might not withstand the biting force and fracture.

Signs & Symptoms That Tell You That You Have A Cavity

If you have a cavity, you might notice some of these signs and symptoms:

  • Holes in your teeth.
  • Sudden pain and sensitivity to drinking or eating something cold or hot.
  • Sensitivity on eating sweets or acidic drinks.
  • Pain on biting.
  • Fracturing of teeth upon normal biting.
  • Blackening or brown stains on teeth

Cavities: Does It Always Indicate Bad Oral Hygiene?

No, cavities may not always mean bad hygiene. Cavity may even form in those who brush and floss daily and maintain good oral hygiene. 

Cavity may not always mean bad or poor oral hygiene and may be a result of incorrect brushing or flossing, or incorrect timing of brushing like just after acidic foods or drinks, or may also occur due to continuous use of highly abrasive toothpaste.

11 Reasons Why You Have Cavities Even After Good Oral Hygiene

Choice Of Toothbrush

You might be brushing twice daily but with the wrong toothbrush. Selection of an appropriate toothbrush plays a very crucial role in removal of plaque and food debris.

Toothbrushes with more rounded bristles are soft to your teeth and are considered to be an ideal toothbrush to use.

Using a hard-bristled toothbrush may abrade the enamel and lead to dental abrasion, recession of gums and increased risk of developing cavities due to thinning of enamel.

A 2014 study concluded that electric toothbrushes may be more effective in reducing plaque and gingivitis than manual brushes in the short and long term. 

As effective plaque removal is crucial in achieving caries free teeth, an electric toothbrush with rotating heads must be your choice of toothbrush.

Correct Technique Of Brushing Teeth

Sometimes you brush your teeth daily twice and still get cavities. The reason behind this may be hidden in the toothbrushing technique you follow.

While daily brushing, we pay little attention to the technique involved in toothbrushing and therefore end up getting cavities.

Use gentle, short strokes to brush your front teeth and thoroughly clean your mouth without abrading the enamel.

Brush the outside surfaces as well as the back molars and upper areas of your chewing surfaces. Brush the inside surfaces of both top and bottom front teeth by flipping your toothbrush upside down.

Brush your tongue to get rid of any bacteria or plaque.

Toothpaste You Use Matters!

You might be following all oral hygiene routines and yet end up with a cavity. Unfortunately, your toothpaste might be the culprit.

High abrasive toothpastes abrade your enamel layer, thinning the enamel and increasing the chances of cavity formation multifold. 

To maximise the benefits of toothbrushing, you must choose a toothpaste which has a RDA value of 250 or less.

You should look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance while choosing your toothpaste or any teeth whitening products.

Fluoride toothpaste can greatly help achieve oral and dental health by strengthening the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to tooth decay. 

Fluoride reduces the amount of acid produced by the bacteria on your mouth. 

Proper Diet: Essential For Preventing Dental Cavities

Diet plays a crucial role in preventing cavity formation. Proper diet with less sugar and more calcium, may significantly decrease the risk of developing cavities.

However, a diet with frequent intake of sugar, starchy foods and acidic foods and drinks may increase the risk of dental cavities as they result in increased bacterial attack and thinning of enamel from demineralisation.

A research study concluded that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis increases the chances of having dental caries.

Another study reported that all sugars can be fermented by the oral bacteria and are therefore a potential cause of cavities and tooth decay.

Foods rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D increases the tooth strength and their resistance against cavity forming bacteria.

A clinical trial reported vitamin D to be a prominent agent for caries prevention.

Study published in the journal of dental research, concluded that vitamin D is essential for lowering the risk of developing caries in children.

Hence, if you maintain good oral hygiene and still develop cavities, you need to check your diet and eating habits.

Structure Of Your Teeth (Teeth Morphology)

The structure of the teeth are different for different people. Some may have too many pits and fissures and grooves on the tooth surface while some may have gaps in between the teeth.

Morphology of teeth plays a decisive role in cavity formation. The food particles get stuck in these pits, fissures, grooves and gaps between the teeth, not possible to remove from brushing, resulting in plaque buildup, acid attacks on enamel by plaque bacteria and finally cavities formation.

Wisdom tooth or partially erupted tooth creates a favorable environment for the bacteria to get trapped between the crown and periodontal soft tissues causing inflammation and infection.

Choice Of Mouthwash

Therapeutic Mouthwashes contain ADA listed active ingredients such as fluoride, peroxide, essential oils, cetylpyridinium chloride, and chlorhexidine, preventing cavities from forming and naturally healing and reversing the formed cavity in its earliest stage.

Therapeutic mouthwashes, as the name suggests have therapeutic action and control dental conditions like gingivitis, tooth decay and periodontal diseases. They also help remove halitosis.

According to a research published in the journal of clinical medicine research, mouthwash containing chlorhexidine gluconate or cetylpyridinium chloride showed antimicrobial activity against most bacteria in the plaque biofilm.

Another study concluded that the chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride containing antiseptic mouthwashes had higher in-vitro antibacterial activity against streptococcus mutans, a bacteria found in the plaque biofilm.

Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Bruxism or teeth grinding over a long period of time wears down the enamel and increases the risk of dental cavity, further leading to pulp infection.

Medical Conditions like Sjogren Syndrome

Sjogren syndrome, a medical condition that causes dry mouth due to decreased salivary production, is often responsible for tooth infection.

In dry mouth, the saliva in the oral cavity is significantly decreased resulting in non-flushing of the plaque and other food debris.

The plaque accumulation increases resulting in increased bacterial growth leading to tooth infection or abscess.

Immunosuppressive Conditions

Conditions like HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy and other immunosuppressive conditions lead to increased risk of developing tooth cavity and tooth infection as the defence mechanism of the body is significantly compromised.

Genetic Causes such as Amelogenesis Imperfecta

Amelogenesis Imperfecta is a rare genetic disorder affecting the enamel formation, predisposing the enamel to wear down and finally leading to increased risk of cavity and tooth infection.

Saliva Viscosity Matters!

Thickness of saliva or saliva viscosity matters a lot when it comes to cavities formation. 

You might be following all the daily good oral hygiene routine but still get cavities or tooth decay. Your saliva may have a role in it.

Viscous and thick saliva may not act as a natural cleaner of the oral cavity and thus increase the risk of cavities formation even after maintaining good oral hygiene.

The salivary thickness may be genetically influenced, or may be reduced due to some medical or oral conditions, or may be due to excessive smoking and alcohol consumption.

How Can I Prevent Cavities?

  • Daily brushing twice following correct technique.
  • Brushing with a mild abrasive toothpaste containing fluoride.
  • Daily flossing
  • Occasional use of therapeutic mouthwash.
  • Oil pulling has shown potential to prevent cavities.
  • Keeping yourself hydrated.
  • Frequent munching on snacks must be avoided and if done, must be followed by brushing teeth with just water.
  • Diet rich in vegetables and foods with sufficient calcium and vitamin D.


This blog post addressed the topic, “can you tell if you have a cavity by looking at it”. We understood how a cavity forms, ways to tell if you have cavities or not, signs and symptoms that tell if you have a cavity and does cavity always mean bad oral hygiene. The article outlined reasons why you get cavities even after good oral hygiene and how cavities can be prevented.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs): Can You Tell If You Have A Cavity By Looking At It

What happens if you have an untreated cavity for too long?

If you have a cavity untreated for too long, it spreads and destroys the enamel, reaching the dentin and may even reach pulp. Once the cavity reaches pulp, it causes pulp infection leading to tooth pain and sensitivity. 

If tooth infection is left for too long, it can spread to adjoining jaw bone causing inability to open mouth and even osteomyelitis of jaw bone. Untreated tooth infection may also affect the heart causing infective endocarditis and increased risk of heart diseases.

Can a cavity heal on its own?

No, a cavity cannot heal or go away on its own without taking necessary prevention steps.

If the cavity is just in its initial stage where the white spot is visible on the tooth, it is the time to take preventive actions such as toothbrushing, mouth washing and flossing daily.

At stage one, when the white spot has just appeared, the cavity can be reversed with proper oral hygiene.

However, if ignored, the cavity will progress down the enamel surface, reach the dentin and may even progress to pulp to cause pain, sensitivity and even tooth loss.

Are cavities inevitable?

Cavities are not inevitable. There are few people who never get cavities in their lifetime. Brushing twice daily with correct technique and timing, flossing daily, cutting down on sugar, acidic and starchy foods and incorporating calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin D are effective ways to prevent cavities.

Can You Brush Away A Cavity?

A cavity is a permanent damage of the enamel layer that needs to be repaired by using filling materials like composite or porcelain or an amalgam.

Once you have a cavity, it is not possible to brush it away. However, it can be filled and prevented from further damaging your tooth.

Is it possible to never get cavities?

Yes, it is possible that you will never get cavities in your lifetime. Taking good care of your oral health and hygiene is crucial in such cases with daily brushing twice, flossing once and using therapeutic mouthwash occasionally.

Research studies have shown that increasing the number of times you brush your teeth with gentle strokes, significantly decreases the chances of getting cavities.

Other FAQs about Teeth cavities that you may be interested in.

Can mouthwash reverse cavities

Can mouthwash prevent cavities

Can you still get cavities if you don’t eat sugar?


7 Proven Ways How to Tell If You Have a Cavity

Cavities – How to Tell if You Have One – WebMD

The Tooth Decay Process: How to Reverse It and Avoid a Cavity. (2018)

5 Amazingly Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Cavities. (2017)

Cavities/tooth decay – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

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