“Ouch!” Your precious child runs up to you after biting into her favorite candy. Her tiny hand cradling her jaw. Tears streaming down her little cheeks.

“Daddy, mummy, my toofie hurts real bad!”

As a parent, you want to do what’s best for your child. You’re her hero after all. And educating yourself on dental health works towards this goal.

Let’s take a look at the question, “what does a cavity look like?”

What Is A Cavity?

A cavity is when there’s an empty space in an object. Therefore, a dental cavity is when your tooth begins to develop a dent or hole that leads to fundamental damage for that tooth.

This hole begins to fill with bacteria that is beyond your toothbrush’s ability to reach and clean away.

What Does A Cavity Look Like?

Many of us may wonder, “what does a cavity look like?” To the average observer, what a cavity looks like is oftentimes less concerning than what a cavity feels like. We’ll take a look at both here.

The Appearance

For a child or adult, a cavity may take on the appearance of a dark or cloudy spot on the tooth. You may see a chalky white, yellow tinted or dark area on your tooth.

With babies or toddlers, you’ll want to examine their teeth regularly. If you see white splotches on their gums, you’ll want to have your child’s teeth checked, as this is a very early sign of decay.

A cranky baby or swollen cheeks or gums can also be a good indication that your baby’s teeth need to be checked. If brown discoloration or white areas appear on your baby’s teeth, the cavity has begun.

The Feeling

You or your child may feel the pain before you can see the damage.

It’s fairly normal to have some slight sensitivity when eating especially hot or cold foods or biting down on something particularly hard. What’s not as normal is to have lingering, shooting or intense pain when engaging in these activities.

According to the Center For Disease Control (CDC), getting cavities is the most common of all childhood ailments. It’s important to have your child’s teeth checked at the recommended interval for his or her age.

What Causes A Cavity?

Now that you’ve received an answer for your question, “what does a cavity look like?” let’s explore what causes cavities in the first place.

A cavity is caused by a bacterial infection caused by streptococcus mutans, a typically benign bacteria every one of us has in our mouths.


The reason sugar is often viewed as the culprit with cavities is because the streptococcus mutans bacteria break down sugar when we eat sweets, which creates acid in the process.

This acid begins to attack the outer part of your tooth, the enamel, and forms soft spots. This outer layer of your tooth is the most indestructible part of your body. Acid is just more powerful.

When the soft spots occur, a crevice can develop where bacteria can begin to collect. This makes it very difficult for brushing or flossing to clean away the bacteria.

More Than Just Sugar

Sugar is often seen as the enemy when it comes to maintaining dental health, but this isn’t the only source of cavities.

When a person doesn’t keep up with his/her regular dental hygiene routine, things can go downhill quickly. Skipping brushing your teeth because you’re too tired before bed or in a rush in the morning can cost you more than some funky breath.

Babies and Toddlers

Tooth decay can be attributed to babies or toddlers falling asleep with their bottles still in their mouths. This is especially true if you give your baby sugary fruit juices or Gatorade. Avoid giving your baby sugary beverages or foods whenever possible.

How Can I Protect My Family From Getting Cavities?

You’ve already taken the perfect first step by asking, “what does a cavity look like?”

The first step is always prevention.Your dentist can help treat the tooth decay, but there are things within your power to keep the risk low. A few ways you can prevent cavities from ever taking hold include:

  • Brushing your teeth at least twice a day, morning and night, or better yet three times a day
  • Use dentist-recommended toothpaste and toothbrush for your particular needs
  • Floss morning and night or at least once per day
  • Wait 30 minutes after you eat before brushing your teeth because the enamel is most vulnerable during this time
  • Limit your sugar intake
  • If you do eat sugary foods or drink, eat or drink them in one sitting rather than over a period of time
  • Rinse your mouth out with water after you eat sugary foods to help clear away the acid build-up
  • Hold off feeding your baby added sugars as long as you can, and always take your baby’s bottle out of his/her mouth during sleep.

When you routinely get your teeth examined by a qualified professional, you increase the odds of catching a tooth issue early. Combining regular check-ups with regular at-home dental hygiene will significantly reduce your family’s chances for tooth decay.

When Should I Set Up An Appointment With My Dentist?

It’s best to go for regular check-ups and have your teeth examined routinely. Catching the early stages of a cavity is much better than dealing with a monster one later on. Early detection makes a huge difference.

If you’re going for your dental cleanings every 6 months, your dentist will check your teeth and let you know if anything looks suspicious.

Protecting Your Family

We all want to keep our families safe and take care of their needs. And healthy dental hygiene is no exception.

When you ask yourself, “what does a cavity look like?” be sure you’re getting solid information. If you’d like more details on how you can meet all your family’s dental needs, contact us out at Chats Dental.

Dr Catherine Yang, BDS (USyd)