Causes, Signs, & Symptoms of Tooth Decay

One of the most common questions we get from our patients at Reflections Dental Care is “what is tooth decay and how do I know if I have it?” 

Tooth decay, or a cavity, starts when plaque and bacteria accumulate on or within a tooth.  When bacteria eat they produce a byproduct just like when you and I eat, however the bacterias’ byproduct is acid that erodes or dissolves through the enamel, which is the hard outer layer of the tooth, creating a cavity.  When the decay gets all the way through the enamel, it keeps going into the next layer of the tooth, called the dentin. The dentin is much softer than enamel, so the decay can move and spread through it at a much faster rate. It can continue into the nerve at the center of the tooth  creating an abscess, or an infection around the tooth.

Some people may be completely unaware as decay develops and works its way through the tooth.  But for others, there are signs they may pick up on that make them wonder if they do have a cavity. Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures is a symptom people often tell us they notice as they’re drinking an ice cold drink or a cup of coffee.  Some people may feel a similar sensitivity when they’re eating sweets or desserts, or bite down on certain foods. 

People may also actually see signs of tooth decay when looking at their teeth.  Decay can appear as dark spots, stains, or even pits on the teeth.  But the mouth is pretty small and dark inside which can make it difficult to get a good look at a tooth in your own mouth.

A more obvious symptom of decay is the tooth cracking or even breaking.  This can happen because the cavity has spread beneath the surface of the tooth and made the outer shell of the tooth unstable.  When the tooth is like this, it can not hold up to pressure and forces like a healthy tooth and so it fractures.  

It is possible to notice signs or symptoms when you have tooth decay, but it is also common not to experience any symptoms or see any signs of it. The mouth can be very tricky to decipher on your own! It is best to see your dentist if you think you may have tooth decay.  Dentists have special tools, x-rays, cameras, and tests to confirm or deny your suspicions.   

At Reflections Dental Care, we love to share our findings with our patients so they can see what we see!  We are more than happy to show photos and x-rays to help patients understand the signs and symptoms they may be experiencing and work with you to keep your mouth and body healthy. 

For more information or to schedule an appointment, simply visit us online or give us a call! 


Visit us at one of our two locations in Oklahoma City: 

* 1108 NW 16th at Classen Blvd, Oklahoma City, OK 73106

* 10924 Hefner Pointe Dr, Oklahoma City, OK 73120

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