Signs of a Cavity: What Are the Symptoms of Tooth Decay?

Signs of a Cavity: What Are the Symptoms of Tooth Decay?

Ali Fadakar -

It happens to everyone – you brush your teeth twice a day, but maybe “forget” to floss as often as you should. Over time, you start to feel a little soreness in one of your teeth, especially when you eat sugary foods or take a sip of a cold drink. Ouch!

These and other symptoms are typical signs of cavities. Cavities are pretty common, but should always be avoided with great brushing technique and discipline since they require a visit to the dentist’s office. Left unchecked, cavities can lead to severe tooth decay and even worse dental problems.

However, lots of people have general tooth sensitivity. No matter how well they brush or floss, cold drinks or hot foods still cause their teeth to pang painfully. It can be difficult to tell whether you have a cavity or just generally sensitive teeth.

Let’s take a closer look at the signs of cavities and explore the symptoms of tooth decay in more detail.

What Are the Symptoms of a Cavity?

Cavities are pretty easy to spot if you pay attention to what your mouth tells you. 


Of course, the easiest and most common symptom of a cavity is a toothache. Toothaches are different from other types of tooth pain. Bite into something a little too hard and your tooth might pang, but that’s not the same as a true toothache.

In contrast, toothaches are incessant and consistent aches that seem to emanate from the core of your tooth. That’s probably because the nerves are being irritated by a cavity or tooth decay. If your teeth hurt even when you aren’t using them, it might be that you have one or more cavities causing trouble.

Tooth Sensitivity

Even so, tooth sensitivity can also be a sign of a cavity. You’ll specifically want to pay attention to sensitivity when your teeth are exposed to particular things, like hot or cold temperatures. In general, our teeth's roots and sensitive nerves are protected by enamel: the toughest tissue in our bodies.

But cavities can wear down enamel over time, allowing hot or cold temperatures to stimulate the nerves and cause pain.

Pain While Eating, Drinking, and Biting Down 

Similarly, if you get regular tooth pain in a single or a couple of teeth when you eat, drink, or bite down hard on certain foods, like chips or nuts, there might be a cavity working on those teeth.

Visible Holes or Pits

Some of the more obvious signs of a cavity are visible holes or pits in the tooth itself. Given enough time, a cavity will bore a hole in your tooth by wearing down enamel and dentin. If the cavity lasts for long enough, it could severely affect your tooth and make it brittle or more susceptible to rotting.

Do yourself a favor if you see any tooth holes or pits and see a dentist ASAP!

Surface Staining

Lastly, stains or dark-colored spots on the surfaces of your teeth could also be a sign of a cavity. But it’s important to recognize that tooth discoloration can also be at play.

Tooth discoloration occurs when the enamel of your teeth is stained from dark-colored foods or drinks, such as coffee. But if the spots or stains are black, gray, or brown, odds are it’s a cavity rather than regular tooth discoloration.

Not sure which is which? If the tooth discoloration is in a very small, localized spot, it’s probably a cavity. If the tooth stain is much larger, it’s probably regular discoloration.

What Are the First Signs of Rotting Teeth?

If your cavities progress for long enough, they could eventually lead to tooth-rotting. This is always a bad development, as it means a dentist will have to pull the tooth and replace it with a synthetic counterpart.

Not sure whether your teeth are too far gone yet? Here are some of the most common signs of rotting teeth.

Bad Breath

Rotting teeth are infected with so much bacteria that they’ll need to be pulled. Bacteria, when they reproduce or consume sugars in the plaque on your teeth, will produce a sulfurous, nasty odor.

Basically, if you suffer from regular halitosis or bad breath despite using mouthwash and brushing regularly, a rotten tooth might be hiding in plain sight.

Brown, Black, or White Spots

As mentioned above, tooth discoloration in small, localized spots is often a sign of a rotting tooth. If the brown, black, or white spots are particularly vibrant or noticeable, it might be a sign of a bacterial infection that has spread to the root of your tooth.

Unpleasant Taste in Your Mouth

As with a foul odor, an unpleasant or rotting taste in your mouth is probably a sign of one or more rotting teeth. Bacteria will eventually spread over the surface of your tooth, and your tongue can definitely detect when something is rotten!

If you detect a rotten taste in your mouth, get any rotting teeth pulled as soon as possible. Bacteria from the infected teeth can spread to other, healthy teeth faster than you think.


Sometimes, cavities and rotting teeth can lead to bacterial infections in the gums. If your gum line (the place where the gums meet the teeth) starts to swell or bleed, have a dentist look at your mouth ASAP. The last thing you want is gingivitis or other gum diseases, which can be uncomfortable and unsightly.


All in all, if you experience any type of toothache, odds are a cavity or a rotting tooth is on its way. Particularly painful toothaches are more likely to signal a rotting tooth that requires a root canal or needs to be pulled compared to minor toothaches that only trigger once in a while.

What Does a Rotten Tooth Look and Smell Like?

Not sure whether you have one or more rotten teeth? You can do a sight and smell test.

Rotten teeth will smell pretty similar to regular bad breath, although they will likely smell a little fouler than normal. A sulfuric smell is common with rotten teeth.

A rotten tooth, on the other hand, will appear discolored across much or even most of its surface area. The tooth may have multiple discolored spots in different shades from one another, and it may also feel sticky or soft compared to other teeth. 

Why Did I Get a Cavity Even Though I Brush My Teeth?

Brushing and flossing twice per day is the best way to prevent tooth decay, plus avoid a stern lecture from your dentist!

But what if you brush your teeth every day and still get a cavity? Unfortunately, there’s no way to totally prevent cavities. Everyone’s mouth is different, and even the best brushing technique can sometimes still miss small pockets of bacteria, leading to cavity formation.

The best way to minimize the odds of getting a cavity is to brush well twice per day using an electric toothbrush, such as the Zina45 Sonic Pulse Toothbrush. You should also regularly floss, as well as use a mouthwash to clear away extra plaque and bacteria.

Furthermore, get a biannual cleaning from your dentist. They can clear away plaque and bacteria that build up over time or that may be particularly hard to reach with a regular toothbrush.

Can You Reverse Tooth Decay Naturally?

Absolutely. In fact, mild tooth decay can be partly reversed through the re-mineralization process.

In a nutshell, cavities bore into the enamel of your teeth over time. But if they don’t reach your teeth’s pulp or roots, the bacteria can eventually be removed through regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing, and the enamel can be repaired thanks to fluoride and other vitamins.

The best ways to reverse tooth decay naturally are to:

  • Brush twice per day with an electric toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste – Supersmile’s Professional Whitening Toothpaste is a great example

  • Floss just as often
  • Visit a dentist twice per year
  • Avoid sugary foods and sweets, such as cookies or candy
  • Eat fewer citrusy fruits and drink less coffee
  • Take a multivitamin with key vitamins necessary for tooth health, such as vitamin C and vitamin K

When To See a Dentist 

You should also make it a regular priority to see your dentist twice per year. They can perform thorough cleanings and minimize the likelihood of all types of tooth decay.

However, you should visit a dentist if you suspect you have a cavity or a rotten tooth as soon as possible. If you visit a dentist quickly enough, they may be able to repair the damage before it goes too far.

Furthermore, the faster you get a cavity looked at, the faster it can be filled in and the less likely it is that you’ll have to deal with a root canal or a replacement tooth.

Final Thoughts

All in all, there are plenty of signs of cavities to watch for. Odds are that you’ll be able to nip any cavities in the bud as soon as they start to develop if you pay attention to your dental hygiene and the quality of your teeth.

Even better, you can avoid common cavities by practicing excellent brushing techniques and relying on solid dental hygiene tools. Check out what Supersmile offers in terms of toothpaste, mouthwash, toothbrushes, and more in our online store!