How do I know if I have a cavity?

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February 21st, 2023

Illustration of two teeth next to each other. One tooth has a small black dot and another has a gray spot - these are to indicate cavities in the teeth.

What does a cavity look like?

Cavities (tooth decay or dental caries) are not always visible to the eye. However, if you notice a hole, tiny opening or other discoloration on your tooth (white, black or brown spots), it is likely that it's a cavity.

Illustration of a tooth with a sad face and a black marking on the top to indicate a cavity. Red lines around the top of the tooth to show pain.

What does a cavity feel like?

Cavities can feel painful, like a toothache, with no known reason for the pain. It can make your teeth very sensitive when drinking or eating hot, cold or very sweet things. You might also experience pain when biting down or applying pressure to the tooth. Cavities sometimes create bad breath because of the food and bacteria that can collect inside.

Illustration of young girl in a dental chair. Dentist is sitting beside her in an office chair while wearing a mask and holding a dental tool pointed toward her mouth.

What should I do if I have a cavity?

If you think you have a cavity, go see your dentist. A dentist will be able to treat it appropriately based on the size of the cavity. Treatment can be as simple as a filling that prevents the cavity from getting worse. For very severe cavities, a crown, root canal or tooth extraction may be needed. It’s important to visit your dentist regularly because they can detect cavities better than you can on your own, and they can treat them more easily if they are discovered early.

If you have pain due to your cavity and are waiting for your dental appointment, you can try rinsing your mouth with saltwater (avoid water that is too hot or cold due to sensitivity) or taking an over-the-counter pain medication, if approved by your dentist and doctor.


This information in this post is for general educational purposes only and does not warrant or represent any information as related to health as specifically appropriate for you. It is not intended to be medical advice or replace the relationship that you have with your health care providers. You should always seek medical advice on any diagnosis or treatment from a qualified health care provider. The information is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied.