Tooth Decay: What Does It Look Like?

BY Hook Webmaster  |  August 23rd, 2023
Hook Webmaster

If you’re someone who already doesn’t enjoy going to the dentist, it’s probably your worst nightmare to hear the dentist say, “You have a cavity.” đŸ˜± You might immediately think, “I take good care of my teeth— prove it to me!”

While tooth decay can be difficult to spot with the naked eye, it can be found on an X-ray. So, what does a cavity look like on an X-ray? We’ll be unpacking that and more, including:

What Is a Cavity?

cavity on tooth close up image

A cavity, or tooth decay, is a permanently damaged hole in the hard surface of your teeth. Cavities are caused when bacteria in your mouth attack the tooth’s enamel. Cavities are very common, and anyone can get them, whether they’re an infant or an older adult.

Tooth decay can be caused by:

Cavities form when bacteria come in contact with sugars and starches from drinks and food and ultimately form an acid. This acid may attack your tooth enamel, which causes it to lose minerals. If this repeatedly occurs, decay can start. Enamel can repair itself early on thanks to fluoride in toothpaste or minerals in your saliva. But if more minerals are lost, the enamel will eventually break down and form a cavity.

What Does a Cavity Look Like on an X-Ray?

To understand what a cavity looks like on an X-ray, we’re going to start with two terms:

Since your teeth are solid structures, they show up as white on an X-ray. But since cavities are holes in the tooth structure, they show up as dark spots. It takes a careful eye to spot early tooth decay because it can show up faintly on an X-ray.

All dental cavities present the same on an X-ray (with a radiolucent spot)— the only difference is where the cavity is located. These dark spots can show up:

6 Signs You May Have a Cavity

woman having toothache at home

Small cavities can be almost impossible to spot without an X-ray, and you may not experience any warning signs. However, you may get some symptoms that indicate you’re developing a cavity. These include:

1) Tooth Sensitivity

If a particular tooth starts to feel sensitive to temperature changes, such as drinking something hot or cold, this can be an indicator of a developing cavity. If the sensitivity doesn’t get better, we recommend visiting your dentist to have X-rays taken.

2) Persistent Toothache

Along with sensitivity, you may also experience tooth pain, especially when consuming something hot or cold. Even sweet foods can trigger a toothache when you have a cavity.

3) Discolored Spots on the Tooth

Most of us don’t sit and examine the color of our teeth in the mirror, so this can be a more difficult symptom to spot. However, white, dark, or discolored spots that don’t match the rest of your tooth can indicate the presence of tooth decay.

4) Swollen or Bleeding Gums

In general, red, swollen, or bleeding gums indicate that there’s something wrong with your teeth and/or gums. One of those issues could be a cavity.

5) Small Hole in the Tooth

If you can feel a small hole or crack with your tongue, that should be cause for concern. Alternatively, if you can visually see a hole in your tooth, be sure to go to the dentist right away.

6) Bad Breath That Doesn’t Go Away

Everyone has had an unfortunate bad breath experience after eating something full of garlic or onions. But if your bad breath doesn’t go away, even after brushing your teeth or rinsing with mouthwash, then you could have a cavity or even gum disease on your hands.

How Tooth Decay Is Removed

patient at the dentist office for treatment

It’s important to fill a cavity because if left untreated, bacteria can enter the enamel and lead to infection. Infections must be taken seriously and treated with a root canal and antibiotics because tooth infections can ultimately be life-threatening if left untreated.

A cavity-filling procedure usually takes about an hour. Your dentist will follow these steps:

A successful filling ensures that future decay can’t enter the area. While developing more decay in the same spot is uncommon, it’s not impossible. You may need to get your filling replaced as it wears down over time to ensure your teeth stay protected.

How to Prevent Cavities

Don’t want to deal with getting a cavity filled? You can take preventative measures to help prevent cavities from forming, including:

Need a Cavity Filled?

Although X-rays are the most common way to detect tooth decay, here at Wayzata Dental, we like to stay ahead of the game. Our Minnesota office no longer uses X-rays but instead uses a leading technology called CariVuâ„¢.

CariVuâ„¢ allows us to discover cavities and weak enamel before bigger problems develop. Plus, we offer pain-free laser dentistry if you need a cavity filling for the most comfortable experience possible.

Get in touch with Wayzata Dental to schedule an appointment!

Hook Webmaster