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Tooth Stains Vs. Cavities

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A man suffering from a toothache holds his left cheek with his left hand.

Cavities are no fun, and they can lead to serious problems with your teeth and gums if you aren’t careful. While a dentist can treat a cavity, cavities can often be easier to prevent than to treat. If you’ve ever noticed a toothache or seen a discoloured spot on your teeth, you might have wondered: is it a cavity? Or is it just a tooth stain? How can you tell the difference?

While both tooth stains and cavities can cause discolouration, they aren’t the same thing. If you notice any pain or sensitivity in your tooth or the surrounding area, it’s likely a cavity. 

What Is a Cavity?

Your teeth are made up of three layers: the enamel, the dentin, and the pulp. The enamel is the strong outer layer you can clearly see. It’s kind of like a protective shield for the supporting structure of the entire tooth—it protects the more sensitive areas while you’re chewing, eating, and grinding.

But this shield isn’t completely invincible, and it can sometimes get damaged. Usually, this is due to general wear and tear or too much bacterial exposure. When this happens, it can create a small gap in the enamel where bacteria can get inside the shield. This is a cavity, but is often referred to as tooth decay or dental caries.

Then, it can spread and multiply. It’s like a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and harmful contaminants. Bits of food, saliva, and liquids can get trapped in this little gap, and the problem can become worse. If it’s left untreated, it can even reach the dentin layer, which is the softer and less protected area. And if left for too long, it can reach the pulp—the most sensitive part.

If bacteria reach this area, they can cause abscesses, infections, and other severe dental problems with long-lasting effects.

What Causes a Cavity?

Cavities develop when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, builds up on teeth and produces acids that erode the tooth enamel. This plaque buildup can be caused by plenty of different things, like:

  • Poor oral hygiene. Regularly brushing your teeth helps to remove plaque and bacterial buildup, and if your oral hygiene isn’t up to par, it can leave the teeth exposed.
  • Excessive sugar consumption. Sugary foods and drinks are fuel for harmful bacteria, and this can lead to more acid production in the mouth.
  • Overly acidic foods and drinks. These can weaken the tooth enamel and make it more susceptible to tooth decay.
  • Persistent dry mouth. Saliva plays an important role in neutralizing acids and preventing cavities, so when you don’t have enough saliva, you have an increased risk of tooth decay.

When these factors come into play, you’re more at risk of developing a cavity.

Are Cavities & Tooth Stains the Same Thing?

But how can you tell the difference between a simple tooth stain and a cavity developing? Cavities often begin as a visible discoloured spot on the teeth. The key difference lies in how it feels.

A tooth stain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—cause any physical sensations. You shouldn’t notice any pain or discomfort if you touch it or the surrounding area because it’s just aesthetic damage. 

On the other hand, a cavity can be extremely sensitive and painful. If you poke it or apply pressure, it’s not going to feel good, because the nerve in your tooth is being irritated by harmful bacteria. This becomes much more noticeable if the bacteria reach the dentin or pulp layers—they’re much more sensitive than the enamel.

How Can You Prevent Cavities?

There’s good news: cavities are often preventable with a proactive approach. Proper oral hygiene plays an extremely important role here! Don’t forget to brush your teeth at least 2 times a day for 2 minutes at a time. Then, follow it up with some flossing, and a bit of mouthwash to wrap the whole process up.

It can also help to:

  • Limit your intake of sugary and acidic foods and drinks
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking water helps rinse away food particles and bacteria.
  • Use dental products that contain fluoride—this is great for keeping your enamel strong!
  • Avoid tobacco usage
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in calcium.

And don’t forget to regularly visit your dentist for checkups! This lets an experienced professional see any problems early on, long before they become problems.

A man in an dentist's office shaking hands with his dentist

What to Do if You Have a Cavity

If you think you may have a cavity or notice any signs of tooth decay, come visit our team at Hometown Dental. Our team is here to help keep your teeth healthy and strong. Don’t let a cavity go unnoticed or untreated—book an appointment with us today!

Written by Dr. JJ

Meet the leader of the Hometown Dental team — Dr. JJ!

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