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What does a cavity look like?

by Williams, Daily & Frazier on Jul 7, 2020 3:30:00 AM

Have you ever wondered what a cavity looks like?

You might be surprised to learn that a cavity is a real hole in your teeth. Cavities are the result of tooth decay, which damages the layer of enamel that protects your teeth. Also known as dental caries, cavities develop over the course of time. You may not be able to see them at first, but left untreated, cavities can cause visible damage to your tooth enamel.


Cavities can develop when bacteria, acid, saliva and food particles combine inside your mouth to create plaque, which is a sticky film that covers the surface of your teeth. The bacteria in plaque feed on the sugars in the food and drinks, and in the process, create acid as a byproduct. This acid erodes tooth enamel to create a hole, or cavity.

Cavities are a common infectious disease. In fact, cavities are the second most common infectious disease, after the common cold.


What Does a Untreated Cavity Look Like?

A cavity does not usually look like a hole at first – it usually shows up as a small spot. You may be able to tell it is a cavity by its color and shape.


Cavity color

A cavity can be black, white, or any shade in between. All cavities turn black eventually, though, as the enamel around the cavity decays.

Cavity Shape

A cavity has an organic shape, which is to say it has an irregular or asymmetrical shape that tends to have curves rather than straight edges. The shape of the cavity will change as it grows.


Left untreated, cavities can turn into a painful infection, also known as a tooth abscess. Bacteria can enter the cavity, and get into the interior of the tooth and eventually make it all the way down into the tooth root. A tooth abscess causes pain, fever and bad breath; it can also cause visible signs, such as swelling in your face and neck.


What Does a Treated Cavity Look Like?

Fortunately, cavities are easy to treat. Fillings and crowns are the most common treatment for cavities.


Fillings replace the part of the tooth lost to a cavity. The hole left in the tooth left by tooth decay still contains the bacteria that created the cavity. Left unchecked, the decay continues to spread and damage the tooth enamel.

The procedure involves clearing away the decay inside the tooth, usually with a drill. Removing the decay prevents further damage, but it does not repair the existing damage to tooth enamel. That is where fillings come in – fillings replace the part of the tooth lost to tooth decay. Your dentist molds the filling to match the shape of the surrounding tooth.

There are several basic types of fillings, including those made from a mixture of metals, known as amalgam, and those made of composite, gold, or porcelain. Amalgam fillings look like a dark spot on teeth, while composite or porcelain fillings look more like your natural teeth. Gold fillings look gold, of course.


Sometimes the cavity is larger than the surrounding tooth, which makes it very difficult to fill. In these cases, a dentist might suggest placing a crown over the filled tooth. A crown is a fitted “cap” that looks and feels like a natural tooth.

X-rays help your dentist get an idea of what the cavity looks like from the inside. The results of your x-ray can help your dentist assess the depth and severity of a cavity, and help your dentist determine the best treatment for your cavity.

With a little luck and good oral hygiene, you will never know what a cavity looks like – or feels like. Regular dentist visits can also help prevent cavities; your dentist can look for early signs of cavities long before you ever spot them. Regular dental cleanings from your dentist can help remove plaque from hard-to-reach places before it can cause cavities.

For more information on what cavities look like, consult with your dentist in Raleigh. New patients are always welcome at Williams & Daily.

Williams, Daily & Frazier Dental is a family and cosmetic dentist in Raleigh, NC with a dedicated team of dentists, assistants, hygienists and administrators who are enthusiastic in their commitment to their patients. We offer dental implants, Invisalign teeth straightening, in-office and home teeth whitening options, and Oral-B electric toothbrushes.
Contact Williams, Daily & Frazier at (919) 846-9070 for more information and to schedule an appointment today.