“Ouch!” Your precious child runs up to you after biting into her favourite lolly. Her tiny hand cradling her jaw and her tears streaming down her little cheeks.

“Daddy, mummy, my toofie hurts!”

As a parent, you want to do what’s best for your child. You’re her hero after all so 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?

By definition, a cavity is an empty space in an object. Therefore, a dental cavity is a dent or a hole that leads to fundamental damage in a tooth.

No matter how hard you brush your teeth, this cavity will be filled with bacteria that is beyond your toothbrush’s ability to reach and clean.

What Does A Cavity Look Like?

Many of you may wonder, “What does a cavity look like?” To the average person, what a cavity looks like is often less concerning than what a cavity feels like. Let’s have a look at both:

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 definitely want to have your child’s teeth checked as this is a very early sign of decay.

A cranky baby or swollen cheeks and/or gums can also be a good indication that your baby’s teeth need to be checked. If brown discolouration or white areas appear on your baby’s teeth, then that may be a sign of cavity.

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 or drinking, especially hot or cold things, or biting down on something particularly hard. What’s not 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. That’s why it’s so 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 mouth.


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 supposed to be the most indestructible part of your body, but unfortunately 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 in those areas.

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

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

When Should I Set Up An Appointment With My Dentist?

It’s best to go for regular dental 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 go for your dental cleanings every 6 months, your dentist will check your teeth and let you know if anything looks suspicious inside your mouth.

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 the right information. If you like more details on how you can meet all your family’s dental needs or are looking for a good dentist in Chatswood, please feel free to contact us.

Dr. Catherine Yang, BDS (USyd)