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Updated on September 30, 2022

Cavity Pain - Causes, Home Remedies & Treatments

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Do Cavities Hurt?

Cavities, or dental caries, are small holes that initially form in the tooth’s outer hard layer, or tooth enamel. They are a form of tooth decay.

Anyone of any age can develop cavities due to:

  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Snacking frequently
  • Drinking a lot of acidic or sugary drinks
  • Eating sugary, starchy, or sticky foods
  • Smoking tobacco products

What Does Cavity Pain Feel Like?

You may not experience any symptoms from cavities in the early stages. As a cavity worsens, most people experience sharp tooth pain, especially when consuming hot, cold, or sugary foods and drinks. 

Eventually, cavities cause sudden, random tooth pain when you bite down. You may also develop continuous, throbbing, or pounding pain if the cavity becomes severe enough.

4 Stages of Cavity Pain

The stages of cavity pain are:

1. No pain

When a cavity begins, it may not cause any symptoms.

2. Sensitivity

As cavities progress, you may feel a sudden, sharp tooth pain when you consume hot, cold, starchy, acidic, or sugary foods and drinks. The sensitivity may also increase with exposure to cold air or ice. Removing the stimulus should quickly resolve the sensitivity. 

3. Pain when eating

People with moderate to severe cavities may experience a lot of pain when eating. This pain tends to be the most intense while biting down and chewing. It may also occur when teeth come into contact with something that is hot, cold, starchy, acidic, or sugary. 

4. Continuous, throbbing pain

People with severe cavities and infections usually experience intense, continuous, throbbing, or pounding pain. Some people describe this sensation as someone drilling into your tooth or the surrounding area. It may also feel like your tooth or the surrounding area is pulsing, tingling, or numb.

Other Signs and Symptoms of Cavities

Cavities can cause symptoms other than pain and sensitivity. People with cavities may experience:

  • Pits or visible holes in the teeth
  • Dark spots, stains, or patches on the teeth
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
  • Signs of gum disease like red or bleeding gums
  • Swelling of the face
  • Pain in the jaw or face
  • Pus in the mouth
  • Fever or chills

When to See a Dentist 

Talk to a dentist if you experience tooth sensitivity or pain. 

Also talk to a doctor if you experience:

  • Trouble eating or pain when chewing
  • Facial or mouth pain, swelling, or fever
  • Pus or bleeding in the mouth
  • Teeth that look worn down
  • Unexplained or chronic bad breath
  • A bad taste in the mouth

Diagnosis     

To diagnose the problem, a dental professional will ask when your symptoms began, what worsens or triggers them, and how intense they are. They will also:

  • Examine your mouth and teeth
  • Check for soft spots in your teeth by checking them with dental instruments
  • Perform X-rays to determine the extent and exact location of cavities

Professional Treatments

The best treatment for cavities depends on the extent of the cavity.

Fluoride treatments

Professional fluoride treatments may help restore tooth enamel or even reverse tooth decay if a cavity is in the early stages. Professional fluoride treatments contain much higher fluoride concentrations than rinses, toothpastes, or tap water. 

This procedure may involve having fluoride gels, liquids, or a varnish brushed onto the affected teeth. You may also wear small trays filled with fluoride that fit over your teeth.

Dental Fillings

Fillings, or restorations, are the most common treatment for cavities that have started to progress past the initial stages. During a dental filling procedure, a dentist removes the damaged enamel and/or dentin and fills the resulting space with tooth-colored materials such as resin or amalgam. 

Crowns

If cavities are extensive, you may require a crown, or a cap, that fits over the tooth. To place a crown, a dentist will remove the decayed tissues from the tooth, shape the tooth, and then permanently glue the cap on. Most crowns are made from high-strength ceramic or metal. 

Root canals

If the cavity involves the pulp, or inner tissues of the tooth, you may need a root canal. During a root canal, a dentist removes the diseased or dead pulp from the tooth and replaces it with a biocompatible material. 

Extractions 

If cavities are severe, the tooth may need to be extracted, or surgically removed. You may get a bridge or dental implant to replace the lost tooth.

Complications

If a cavity is left untreated, a bacterial infection can form. If an infected tooth is left untreated, the infection can spread to the blood and cause severe complications, including death. 

Depending on how severe the cavity or infection is, a tooth may need to be removed. You may undergo surgery to remove damaged or diseased tissues if the infection has spread to the jawbone or gums.

Outlook

The outlook for someone with cavities depends on how early they receive a diagnosis and treatment.

If cavities are treated early enough, undergoing minor restoration procedures will often allow you to keep most of your natural tooth. Minor cavities may even resolve with the use of fluoride rinses or dental sealants.

If the cavity is severe enough, the tooth may be removed. In some cases, you may get a dental implant or bridge to replace the extracted tooth. If you lose several teeth, you may need to get a dental bridge or partial dentures. 

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Managing Cavities 

A dentist should always evaluate and treat cavities. But you can do a few things at home to manage pain.

At-home remedies for cavity pain include:

  • Avoiding hot, cold, starchy, or sugary foods and drinks
  • Using a fluoridated, a warm salt water, and/or a 1.5% hydrogen peroxide mouth rinse
  • Applying a cold compress or wrapped ice pack to the area in 20-minute intervals
  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
  • Apply a peppermint tea bag 
  • Using OTC numbing gels or mouth rinses

How to Prevent Cavities 

There are plenty of things you can do to reduce the risk of developing cavities.

Tips for preventing cavities include:

  • Brush your teeth with a fluoridated toothpaste at least twice daily, or ideally after every meal
  • Floss or use an interdental cleaner daily
  • Rinse your mouth using fluoride rinses daily, or ideally after every meal
  • Rinse out the mouth with water after consuming sugary drinks or foods
  • Drink tap water because it typically contains fluoride
  • Avoid frequent snacking or sipping drinks frequently
  • Attend regular dental cleanings and exams
  • Get sealants, a protective plastic coating, applied to the back teeth (molars)
  • Receive professional fluoride treatments regularly
  • Rinse your mouth with antibacterial rinses
  • Limit your consumption of sticky, sugary, starchy, or acidic foods and drinks
  • Drink plenty of water 
  • Opt for unsweetened versions of coffee and tea
  • Chew sugar-free gum 
  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Treat conditions that cause dry mouth

Summary

When tooth decay begins, it may not cause any pain or other symptoms. But as cavities progress, they tend to cause sensitive teeth and pain, particularly when eating. Most people with severe cavities experience continuous, sharp, throbbing tooth pain.

Talk to a dentist as soon as possible if you experience tooth sensitivity or pain. 

In some cases, early stage cavities are treatable using non-invasive techniques like fluoride treatments. But moderate-to-severe cavities may require require fillings, crowns, and/or root canals.  

If you have a very severe cavity or infection, your tooth may need to be extracted and replaced.

7 Sources Cited
Last updated on September 30, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Canadian Dental Association. “Cavities.
  2. Cleveland Clinic. “Cavities.
  3. Huynh, Nam Cong-Nhat,. et al. “Rinsing with Saline Promotes Human Gingival Fibroblast Wound Healing In Vitro.” PLOS One
  4. Mayo Clinic. “Cavities/tooth decay.
  5. Mount Sinai. “Peppermint.
  6. Mouth Healthy. “Cavities.
  7. Rasheed, Haxem Tarek. “Evaluation of the effect of hydrogen peroxide as a mouthwash in comparison with chlorhexidine in chronic periodontitis patients: A clinical study.” Journal of Internatioanl SOciety of Preventive & Community Denistry.
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