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Cavity Vs Stain – How To Tell Them Apart

Excerpt: When teeth appear darker, it is likely due to staining rather than cavities. But knowing a few key details can make this more distinguishable.
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A cavity may or may not cause pain or discomfort. Your teeth will also most likely be more sensitive to temperature. A stain will not usually cause any discomfort for you physically. However, minor cavities may not cause any issues for you at all, and may not even need treatment.

If you’ve recently noticed discoloration on your teeth, it can be hard to tell if it’s a cavity or a stain.


When teeth appear darker, it is likely due to staining rather than cavities. But knowing a few key details can make this more distinguishable.

How To Spot A Cavity

Some of these bacteria feed on sugar entering your mouth and create acids, dissolving the mineral content of your teeth over time. This process is called tooth decay. A cavity may appear as a discolored spot and can be brown, black, or gray on a tooth. 

Cavity Symptoms

Tooth decay can cause other, more noticeable symptoms besides tooth discoloration, especially as it progresses. 

Be on the lookout for issues such as:


  • Visible holes in teeth.
  • Tooth sensitivity, especially in the discolored area.
  • Toothache, which may remain constant or radiate to the ear or jaw area.
  • Bad breath or foul taste that doesn’t go away.
If you may a cavity untreated, it will usually expand over time.

How Can You Tell If It’s A Stain

Certain foods and drinks may stain a person’s teeth. While stained teeth are not very pleasant, they generally cause no discomfort.

Lots of substances can stain your teeth, some include:


  • Colored drinks – coffee, tea, soda, sports drinks, and wine
  • Antimicrobial mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine or cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC)
  • Tobacco & marijuana products
  • Some Foods – berries, beets, tomato sauce, soy sauce, curries, and chocolate
  • Tetracycline medication
The formation of a buildup of dental plaque can cause tooth stains. Hard, calcified plaque can often be yellow, gray, brown, or black. Certain bacteria in your mouth can produce harmful brown or black stains which is an indication that oral health is leading to a decrease in the potential for tooth decay.
It’s challenging to maintain healthy oral hygiene, but bad habits can be hard to break. Most causes of tooth staining are preventable with proper care and good oral hygiene practices.
Cavity Vs Stain - How To Tell Them Apart - 1 - Smiles Dental Group

How To Whiten Stained Teeth

Some teeth may show some intrinsic discoloration that sheds a light on a condition you were born with, medication, or an injury. This type of discoloration is usually harder to fix and not as easy to remedy. Worn enamel can also lead to teeth that appear yellow. The dentin underneath your enamel is usually a slightly yellowish color.

Some tooth stains can be removed at home by brushing your teeth regularly. You can also try a whitening toothpaste, or brushing your teeth with a bit of baking soda. These products should be used with caution, as their abrasive nature can cause damage to your pearly whites.

If you’re concerned about a persistent tooth stain and want to know your choices for how to remove it professionally, ask your dentist. They may offer advice and help you understand your options.

You To Can Prevent Stains!

Whiter teeth don’t have to be expensive. Using simple options like brushing your teeth and keeping your mouth closed, you can prevent stains. 

The following suggestions all can help:

  • Brush and floss regularly
  • Dilute, stop, or use a straw 
  • Reduce your intake of sugary drinks, alcohol, and tobacco
  • Chew sugar-free gum that contains xylitol

Final Thoughts

Just in case, if you’re unsure of whether it’s tooth decay or a stain, put your tongue on the tooth for about 30 seconds. You can easily tell the difference with this technique.
Various foods, drinks, and habits can stain your teeth or cause cavities. Cavities are pits and may only affect one tooth, while stains can be present on more than one tooth. There are many reasons for staining of the teeth, including coffee, tea, wine, and tobacco use.

frequently Asked Questions

You should make a dentist appointment so you know for sure. If you treat a cavity early on, you can prevent a lot of issues.

A dentist can verify if it’s a minor cavity, or not. Minor cavities may not need treatment. If you do need it treated, they will almost always have different options to choose from.

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