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How Do You Know You Have a Cavity?

A Healthy Smile - Toothfairy Pediatric Dental

Your child is sitting at the table with you for dinner, and you watch them wince as they take a bite of their food. It could be nothing…but it also could be an early warning sign that your child is dealing with a cavity. The problem: how can you be sure? How do cavities look? How do you know if one of your children has a cavity?

Here at Toothfairy Pediatric Dental in Reno, we help with a host of dental and orthodontic issues. One of the most common problems we deal with on a regular basis is cavities (sometimes called dental caries). In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five children between the ages of 5 and 11 are dealing with an untreated decayed tooth. That means, statistically speaking, the odds are 20% that your child has a cavity that you haven’t noticed yet.

The good news is that, by knowing certain symptoms, you can more easily identify a cavity. Then, you can call a pediatric dentist so they can provide a composite (tooth-colored) filling to safely clean and restore the tooth back to normal.

Dr. Ben Salar at Toothfairy Pediatric Dental has compiled a list of warning signs to look for if you suspect your child has a cavity, as well as what to do when you think you’ve seen one.

How To Know You Have a Cavity: Do You Have Symptoms?

Have you observed one of the following symptoms related to a cavity in your child?

  • General tooth sensitivity: A general, dull pain that comes and goes. It typically will occur when biting, chewing, or brushing teeth. This pain is neither strong or localized, yet it is one of the earliest warning signs of an issue.
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold: Very hot or cold beverages can cause a sharp pain that shoots down the jaw.
  • Sensitivity to sweets: Do sticky, sweet foods like candy cause pain in the mouth when your child eats them?
  • Pain when closing their mouth: How do you know if one of your children has a cavity? When your child closes their mouth and their upper and lower teeth settle in together, it may cause them pain.
  • Pits or holes in the tooth: This deals more with “how do cavities look” than “how do cavities feel,” yet it’s still an important sign nonetheless. If you notice that your child’s enamel seems to be pitted, or you notice a small hole, you could be observing the early formation of a cavity.
  • Brown or black spots on the teeth: This is the most recognizable sign, and it also signifies that your child’s cavity has completely eaten into the enamel of the tooth. This may be the easiest to recognize sign when asking how cavities look.

Also, understand that although there are many warning signs of cavities, some children end up having cavities and never present any of the above symptoms. So, how do you truly ever know you have a cavity?

The Diagnosis and Treatment of Cavities

set of model teeth

The only way to be truly sure if your child has a cavity is to make an appointment at their pediatric dentist for a checkup. The dentist will typically use two different methods to make a diagnosis:

  • Physical exam: The dentist will use a tool called a dental explorer to look at any areas of the teeth that seem suspicious. They will gently probe each area to check for cavities. If the area they check is hard, the enamel is still strong. If it is soft and sticky, then the enamel has eroded a cavity has developed.
  • Dental x-rays: Sometimes, your child’s dentist will need to utilize x-rays to get a deeper look at what’s happening to the teeth and gums. This procedure is completely painless and safe.

Once you know your child has a cavity, how do you proceed? The dentist will numb the area with pain-free anesthesia. Then, after removing the decay and thoroughly cleaning the area, a composite filling will be put into place to seal the tooth. After the filling is adjusted, your child’s tooth will be good to go.

Sometimes, we’re asked about certain home remedies for cavities. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a cavity, the only real treatments need to be done by a dentist.

How Do You Prevent Cavities?

toothbrush and toothpaste

In the end, the most important question to ask isn’t “how do you know you have a cavity?” but rather, “how do you prevent cavities in the first place?” In this case, the old adage is correct: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Following a few simple steps will help significantly reduce your child’s risk for cavities:

  • Schedule a cleaning and exam every 6 months. For the sake of your child’s oral health, make sure you bring them to the dentist twice a year.
  • Make sure your kids brush twice a day. Follow the “2×2” formula—brush twice a day for two minutes at a time.
  • Ensure your kids floss once a day. Flossing is important for removing food and plaque from between the teeth.
  • Consider dental sealants. Dental sealants help fill small cracks and pits in teeth where bacteria like to hide. Sealants are a safe and highly effective way to fight tooth decay.

Find Help For Cavities at Toothfairy Pediatric Dental

How do you know if your child has a cavity? How do cavities look? We answer these questions (and many more!) on a daily basis at Toothfairy Pediatric Dental. If you suspect your child has a cavity, or if it’s been more than six months since their last appointment, contact us today for an appointment at any one of our six convenient locations in the Reno area.

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