Tooth Decay Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore
Tooth decay symptoms that patients can easily recognize often only appear after a cavity has grown fairly large. The best way to check for warnings signs of tooth decay is to go to your dentist. Depending on your dental health history, you may need to see a dentist for a checkup and x-rays once a year or once every six months. Tooth decay does happen gradually, so regular dental visits provide advanced warning when you are just starting to get a cavity. The sooner you get dental decay treated, the less likely it is that you will need expensive restorations.
How Does a Dentist Check for Tooth Decay Symptoms?
Your dentist will use a small round mirror to check for signs of pitting or erosion in the enamel on all surfaces of your teeth. These tiny holes are caused by acid released as waste by oral bacteria as they feed and multiply in plaque buildup. As the decay continues, it may lead to softening of the tooth tissue. The dentist can detect this change in texture by prodding the tooth surface with a metal pick. Besides a visual and tactile exam, your dentist will take x-rays of all your teeth to check for hidden signs of decay. Bitewing x-rays that show the upper and lower teeth on one side of your mouth on the same film are the type most commonly used to check for cavities. A more detailed film may be ordered if a cavity is discovered. This allows the dentist to evaluate the extent of damage (such as infection of the tooth pulp) more fully.
Tooth Decay Symptoms You Might Notice
As tooth decay gets worse, you may notice warning signs yourself. You could see a small hole in one of your teeth. Or, you might see a gray, yellow or brownish spot. This is the dentin (the softer layer underneath your enamel) showing through where the enamel has been eaten away. You might also notice persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth from bacterial overgrowth or from infection of the tooth itself.
If you already have a filling in the affected tooth, the filling may get loose or come out altogether. This is because the tooth decay has eaten away the enamel and dentin around the filling so the metal or dental composite is no longer held in place properly. The same thing can happen with crowns and other dental restorations.
Tooth sensitivity is a sign that a cavity has penetrated the enamel into the dentin. These tooth decay symptoms will tend to flare up when you:
- Consume sweet, acidic, hot or cold foods and beverages
- Chew or bite using the affected tooth
- Apply pressure to the tooth (such as during brushing and flossing)
- Breathe cold air
This pain will often get worse over time.
Severe Tooth Decay Symptoms
If a cavity reaches all the way into the tooth pulp, pain may become much more severe and turn into a constant throbbing or frequent shooting pain. This toothache may be accompanied by swelling in your jaw and gums. You may find a pus filled abscess on your gum near the affected tooth as well. A dental abscess should be treated right away to stop the pain and keep the infection from spreading. It may be possible to treat the infected tooth with a root canal. If not, the decayed tooth may have to be pulled and replaced with a bridge or dental implant.