What Does a Cavity Look Like?

A tooth is made up of three layers. Enamel is the outermost layer of the tooth.

It is the hardest substance in the human body and functions to protect the underlying structures from trauma and infection.

The fermentation of refined carbohydrates by the bacteria present inside the mouth leads to acid formation. The attack of acids on the enamel results in its dissolution, thereby affecting the underlying layers.

This process of enamel demineralization is irreversible.

The decaying of enamel is the beginning of cavity formation.

If you have ever wondered, “what does a cavity look like,” the answer to it is that it is a discolored hole present on the tooth’s surface.

Therefore, it is necessary to maintain good oral hygiene and visit a dentist every six months to avoid tooth decay.


A dental cavity (also known as dental caries) is a microbial disease of a tooth’s calcified tissues.

It is a process wherein the organic and inorganic structures of a tooth undergo demineralization.

Clinically, a dental cavity appears like a hole in the tooth.

It may form on the top of teeth from where we bite or in between two adjacent teeth. They are black or brown in color.

If the cavity is not treated, it may further grow and cover a larger area.

Delay in its treatment may also lead to tooth loss.

The best way to keep teeth healthy and free of cavities is to prevent cavity formation.

What does a cavity look like?


What causes a cavity?

Plaque is a thin, transparent film that forms on the surface of a tooth. It consists consists of microorganisms.

Bacteria are naturally present in the oral cavity.

They make up the oral flora. They reside in large numbers in the plaque.

Microorganisms invade the plaque after the formation of an acquired pellicle.

Acquired pellicle is a component of the dental plaque that is made up of the salivary glycoprotein.

As the plaque matures with time, the number of microorganisms in it increases.

These organisms rapidly metabolize the carbohydrates and produce organic acids.

The organic acids produced cause a drop in the intra-oral pH.

This results in enamel demineralization. The demineralization of enamel begins when the pH reaches 5.0 to 4.5 levels.

An increase in the exposure of sucrose increases the acidity of the environment. The pH also lowers over time.

The enamel, dentin, and pulp make up the three layers of a tooth.

The demineralization of enamel results in its breakdown, leading to the exposure of the dentin.

Dentin is porous compared to enamel. The spread of the cavity is quick and significant in the dentin.

After dentin, the pulp gets infected. The pulp is made up of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue.

From the pulp, the bacteria spread quickly to the periradicular tissues. There are in all 5 different stages in tooth decay

Dental decay can also be life-threatening if not addressed at the right time. One should consult a dentist in case of:

  • Tooth discoloration is observed
  • Severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Redness in the mouth
  • Bad breath and a bad taste in the mouth

What are the risk factors for cavities?

Children, adults, and older people are at risk of developing caries.

The inability to maintain oral hygiene is the leading cause of cavities.

Some other risk factors for cavities include:

  • High intake of refined carbohydrates
  • Snacking between meals
  • Having drinks and food rich in sugars
  • Inadequate brushing
  • Not getting enough fluoride
  • Bedtime infant feeding
  • Presence of cracked or chipped teeth
  • Dry mouth
  • Having medicines that cause dry mouth
  • History of high caries activity
  • Worn dental fillings
  • Eating disorders
  • Heartburn
  • Low oral hygiene awareness
  • Neck or head radiation therapy

Cavity Symptoms

1. Tooth Ache

The breakdown of enamel and the exposure of dentin due to bacterial attack cause toothache

2. Tooth sensitivity (Hot/Cold)

Infection of the dentin and pulpal tissue cause sensitivity. The dentinal and pulpal tissue predominantly has nerves present. Their infection causes sensitivity.

3. Dark spots or tooth discoloration

The decalcification of a tooth is characterized by discoloration. It may be black or brown in color.

4. Holes on teeth

Discontinuity on the tooth surface in the form of holes allow food accumulation. This leads to further damage to the tooth.

5. Pain and discomfort while eating

Sometimes, pain may be experienced only while eating.

Can a cavity be reversed?

A tooth is the only structure present in the human body, which is incapable of self-repair.

Any loss in tooth structure is irreversible. However, cavities can be treated.

A dental professional should be consulted for its treatment and restoration.

How to get rid of cavities?

Cavities are treated by a dental professional. A dentist is a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases and conditions of the oral cavity.

Partial loss of enamel during the early stages of cavity formation is treated using a sealant.

A dentist cleans cavities containing the enamel and dentin.

The tooth structure lost due to caries is restored with silver amalgam or tooth-colored restorations (like composites).

Dental caries that includes the pulp, which spreads to the periradicular tissues, should be treated with root canal treatment.

How to prevent Cavity?

A cavity can be prevented by:

  • Brushing twice a day
  • Flossing regularly
  • Having sugarless chewing gums
  • Using straws
  • Increasing the intake of fibrous food
  • Increase fluoride intake
  • Eliminating sucrose from the diet or reducing its amount
  • Avoiding snacks between meals
  • Rinsing mouth post meals
  • Using a mouthwash
  • Using sealants
  • Early restoration of cavities


Unlike bones or other parts of the body, teeth are incapable of self-repair.

A tooth cavity goes unnoticed at an early stage since it does not cause pain.

When the cavity increases in size and affects the underlying structures, it becomes symptomatic.

A cavity looks like a hole but later progresses to pulpal infection and even tooth loss.

It is, therefore, essential to maintain good oral hygiene.

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