What Does a Cavity Look Like? (Complete Guide)

BY Dr. McDowell  |  April 25th, 2022
Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..

Teeth cavities have likely been wreaking havoc on your mouth since before you were old enough to fully understand. Many children receive fillings in their baby teeth and early molars to help minimize decay.

As an adult or a parent, it’s important to understand what does a cavity look like, how it develops, and how you can best treat or prevent it. We’re covering it all so that you can keep your mouth and teeth healthy.

dentist checking for cavities in adult woman; what does a cavity look like

What Are Cavities?

Cavities are permanently damaged areas in your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Cavities, also called tooth decay or caries, are caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks, not cleaning your teeth well, and not visiting the dentist regularly.

Cavities develop when plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) build up on your teeth. Cavities are most commonly found on the chewing surfaces of your back teeth (molars) and in between teeth, where plaque can easily build up. They can also form on the front teeth near the gum line

Cavities are not always visible to the naked eye, which is why it’s important to visit your dentist regularly for cleanings and check-ups. Your dentist can use special instruments to detect cavities in their earliest stages.

What Does A Cavity Look Like?

Cavities come in all different shapes and sizes. The size of the cavity will depend on how long it’s been present and how much damage it’s caused.

The following pictures will give you a better idea of what cavities look like and how they progress over time. As you can see, spotting a cavity isn’t all that difficult. But you do need to be aware of them before they get worse. 

Normal tooth , Dental caries and Dental cavity with calculus; what does a cavity look like

How To Spot Cavities?

Thankfully you won’t always have to go to the dentist to find out whether or not you have cavities. There are specific signs that you can look for to help ensure that you aren’t getting cavities or living with them.

Keeping an eye out for the following signs can help you catch cavities in their earliest stages:

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to visit your dentist as soon as possible. Leaving cavities unchecked in your mouth can lead to serious problems like gum disease down the road.

How To Prevent Cavities

It’s not impossible to prevent cavities. In fact, there’s a lot you can do to help prevent them and keep your mouth healthy. When you’re intentional about your oral health, you can rest assured that you won’t be having any cavities.

Regular Brushing and Flossing

mother and son flossing in mirror; what does a cavity look like

You should be brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing once daily. Using fluoride toothpaste has been proven through studies to help prevent cavities. When you brush, ensure that you’re taking your time and not rushing the process. It’s best to brush for at least 60 seconds.

Stay Away From Foods With High Sugar Content

You should also be aware of the types of foods you’re eating. Foods that are high in sugar can contribute to cavities. Try to limit your intake of sugary snacks and drinks. If you eat or drink something with a lot of sugar, make sure to brush your teeth afterward and drink water to get the remains of the sugar out of your mouth.

Drink Plenty of Water

Water is essential for oral health. It helps rinse away food and bacteria that can lead to cavities and keeps your enamel strong. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help keep your mouth healthy and cavity-free. As a bonus, drinking lots of water helps bad breath.

Avoid Acidic Drinks

Young father with little girl drinking soda outdoors at picnic in the park; what does a cavity look like

Drinks that are high in acidity can contribute to cavities. This is because the acid weakens tooth enamel and makes it more susceptible to decay. Try to avoid drinks like soda, coffee, and alcohol. If you drink them, make sure to brush your teeth afterward or rinse your mouth out with water.

Eat Tooth-Healthy Foods

What you eat has a direct impact on your oral health. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables helps keep teeth healthy. They contain essential vitamins and minerals that help to keep teeth strong. Fruits and veggies also help produce saliva, which is key for keeping the mouth clean.

Consider Flouride and Antibacterial Treatments

If you’re prone to cavities, you may want to consider using fluoride treatments or antibacterial mouthwashes. These can help reduce the risk of cavities and keep your mouth healthy.

Cavities aren’t something you should take lightly. If left untreated, they can cause serious problems down the road. You can help prevent cavities and keep your mouth healthy by following these tips.

close up view of inside mouth; what does a cavity look like

Visiting a Dentist: Don’t Wait to Let the Damage Become Worse

If you think you might have a cavity, the best thing you can do is visit your dentist. They will confirm whether or not you have a cavity and what the best course of treatment is.

Treating cavities in their earliest stages is important to avoid further damage to your teeth. The longer you wait, the worse the cavity will become.

Key Statistics for Cavities

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that by age 11, nearly 60% of children have had cavities in their baby teeth, and 21% have had cavities in their permanent teeth.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) states that over 91% of adults 20-64 years old have had cavities in their permanent teeth.

Cavities are the most common chronic disease for children aged six to 19 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many American men, women, and children struggle from untreated cavities and tooth decay:

Cavities aren’t something to be afraid or ashamed of, but you should work to have them treated as soon as possible.

Choose a Dentist You Can Trust

If you’re looking for a new dentist or want to find one in your area, the American Dental Association (ADA) website is a great place to start your search.

But, for those of you in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, we’d love to take care of you. Wayzata Dental is a premium dental service provider. We use laser dentistry to provide minimally invasive and pain-free dental treatments to our patients.

Don’t hate going to the dentist; visit Wayzata Dental today!


Can you brush away a cavity?

No, you cannot brush away a cavity. Once a cavity is fully developed in the tooth it’s impossible to reverse simply by brushing your teeth. The early stages of a cavity can be reversed by flossing and practicing good brushing habits.

Does filling a cavity hurt?

No, the majority of tooth fillings cause little to no pain. This is a result of using highly effective numbing agents during the procedure.

How long does it take for a cavity to destroy a tooth?

There is no specific timeline for how quickly a cavity can destroy a tooth. In the majority of cases, severe tooth damage is caused by years of unaddressed tooth decay. Regular dental checkups and proper dental hygiene can prevent your teeth from ever reaching this stage.

Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..