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If you’ve recently noticed discoloration on one or more of your teeth, you might have trouble figuring out whether it’s a cavity or a stain.
Cavities and stains can make parts of your teeth appear darker. Many things that cause staining can also contribute to cavities. But a few key details can help you tell the difference between the two.
Learn about the safest ways to whiten your teeth.
A cavity may appear as a brown, black, or gray spot on a tooth. It may also be sticky. The size of the discolored area will likely stay the same over time.
Cavities result from bacteria feeding on sugars that enter your mouth. These bacteria create acids that dissolve the mineral content of your teeth over time. This process is known as tooth decay.
Tooth decay is likely to have other symptoms besides discoloration, especially as it progresses. Be on the lookout for issues like:
If you leave a cavity unchecked, it won’t go away. In most cases, it will slowly expand over time.
Your dentist can treat minor cavities with fillings. To place a filling, they will remove the damaged portion of your tooth before filling it in with sterile material.
Cavities may stop growing quickly but don’t go away without treatment. If you’re concerned about cavities, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
Advanced tooth decays may require root canal treatment to be saved. In some cases, a tooth has to be removed.
Just as you can prevent tooth stains, you can also prevent tooth decay. To reduce your risk of developing cavities:
See NewMouth’s top 10 teeth whitening products of 2022.
While a cavity usually appears as a discolored area or hole on the surface of a tooth, stains tend to be more evenly spread. If you notice that an entire tooth or group of teeth is a different color, you’re probably looking at a stain rather than tooth decay.
Stained teeth generally have what’s known as extrinsic discoloration. This means the stain isn’t part of the tooth and can probably be removed.
In some cases, teeth show intrinsic discoloration, which may reflect a condition you were born with, certain medications, or an injury. This type of discoloration isn’t as easy to remedy.
While stained teeth are unpleasant, they’re generally not accompanied by cavity-related pain or discomfort. Most of these causes of tooth staining are avoidable. However, prolonged poor oral hygiene can make them harder to remove.
Various things can stain your teeth. They include:
A buildup of dental plaque can also cause tooth stains. Dental calculus (hard, calcified plaque) may appear yellow, gray, brown, or black. Certain oral bacteria can cause brown or black stains, which are sometimes associated with a lower incidence of tooth decay.
Brushing your teeth regularly is the best way to eliminate tooth stains. You can also try whitening toothpaste or another whitening product, or brush your teeth with some baking soda.
Always use caution when using any of these products. They can be abrasive or corrosive enough to cause damage to your enamel. This heightens your risk of stained teeth.
Talk to your dentist if you’re concerned about a persistent tooth stain. They can offer advice and help you understand your options for professional treatment.
Your dentist may also recommend professional whitening or restorative treatments for intrinsically discolored teeth.
With regular, good oral hygiene and attention to detail, you can prevent your teeth from becoming stained. Try the following:
A cavity (or tooth decay) can sometimes look similar to a tooth stain and vice versa. Usually, you can tell the difference with a closer look.
Generally, a cavity affects a defined area of a tooth, whereas stained teeth tend to affect more than one tooth. Various foods, drinks, and habits can stain your teeth. Drinks like coffee, tea, and wine are major culprits, as is tobacco use.
Oral bacteria causes tooth decay. Cavities are damaged parts of teeth that have begun to decay.
Both tooth stains and cavities can be treated professionally. They can also both be prevented with regular oral hygiene and careful attention to diet and other oral habits.
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