Most of us take pretty darn good care of our teeth. We brush at least twice a day (some of us after every meal) and follow up with flossing and rinsing with mouthwash to get the food and bacteria between teeth and around the gum line. We schedule regular dental visits for checkup, cleaning, and x-rays to ensure the best oral health.

Unfortunately, even if you do everything right, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to avoid getting cavities. Aside from things you have no control over, like heredity, age, illness, and so on, there are a number of factors that could cause cavities to crop up, like all the hidden sugar in food these days.

You can do a lot to stave off tooth decay, but when it sets in, you need to know the symptoms so you can seek immediate treatment and prevent further damage. Here are a few ways to detect a cavity before it’s too late.

TOOTH SENSITIVITY

One of the early warning signs of cavities is tooth sensitivity, especially when you consume hot, cold, or sugary foods or beverages. Some people have sensitive teeth in general, and this does not mean you have cavities. You can often correct the issue with special products like Sensodyne toothpaste, for example. If you have a cavity, on the other hand, your sensitivity will be focused on one area of the mouth, specifically in or around the affected tooth.

STAINING

Cavities can occur when enamel wears down and bacteria is able to penetrate the tooth. As decay spreads, your tooth could begin to exhibit discoloration on the surface, or even inside the tooth. If you begin to see brown, black, gray, or white spots on your tooth, it could be an indication of tooth decay. You should also watch for visible pitting or holes.

INTERMITTENT PAIN

If you sometimes have sharp pains in a specific tooth for no reason, or if you have pain when you bite down, brush, or floss, there’s a good chance something is wrong. It may or may not be a cavity, but you should call your dentist to get it checked out.

CHRONIC TOOTHACHE

If you get to the point where your tooth hurts all the time, you either have an advanced cavity or another, equally serious oral health issue. You need to see your dentist as soon as possible to diagnose the cause of pain so you can treat it and try to salvage your tooth.

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