Even with strong at-home oral care routines, it’s quite common for adults to have cavities. If you’ve had one, you’re not alone. Research shows that 25% of adults in the United States currently have at least one cavity, and 90% of adults over the age of 20 have had at least one oral cavity in their life! While there are some stigmas around cavities, there’s no reason to feel ashamed of something that is so very common

It is important to keep up on your twice-a-year dental check-ups and cleanings to treat cavities before they lead to dental emergencies. But how can you tell if you have a cavity and need to visit the dentist sooner? If you’re experiencing symptoms of a cavity, you should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Let’s explore the six most common signs that you may have a cavity. 

Sensitivity to Temperature 

One of the most common symptoms of an oral cavity is persistent sensitivity while you’re eating or drinking something warm or cold. This sensitivity may actually feel painful, or it may just feel uncomfortable – either way, it’s one of the first signs that the erosion of at least one tooth’s dentin is happening. 

Dentin is the tissue layer located immediately below the enamel that covers each of your teeth. Once the enamel has worn away, that dentin layer will react to warmer and cooler temperatures with either pain or discomfort. 


To put it very simply, a cavity falls under the category of tooth decay. Therefore, if a cavity is allowed to evolve far enough, it may become visible. An oral cavity could appear as a dark brown or black spot on your teeth; in some cases, it can actually appear as a lighter, off-white color instead. 

While it may be challenging to see if the cavity is especially far back in your mouth, discoloration is a helpful sign in visible teeth because it is nearly always a sign that you’re developing a cavity. 


If a cavity is left untreated for long enough, then this discoloration – a sign of tooth decay – could break down your tooth so far that it becomes an actual hole. You can check for this in the mirror or feel around for with holes with your tongue. Depending on its location, this might be challenging to notice. 

If you believe you may have a hole in one of your teeth, you need to make an appointment with a dental care professional as soon as possible. This is almost certainly a cavity that has already developed significantly, so we want to treat it before it gets any worse

Tooth Pain 

Toothaches are considered “classic” symptoms of oral cavities, but people experience different kinds of pain. When your tooth develops a cavity, inflammation will also develop around the affected tooth. Depending on the state of your gums and the exact location of the inflammation and infection, this can increase sensitivity and cause varying pain levels. 

This pain can be dull and consistent, occasional and sharp, absolutely debilitating, or any combination. The pain can also be concentrated in a single tooth, only affect one area of your mouth, or radiate throughout your whole mouth and make eating and speaking challenging. 

Bad Breath 

If you have an untreated oral cavity, you will also have additional waste that surrounds any affected teeth and can spread to other parts of your mouth. This can result in breath that smells noticeably bad, or even change the normal taste in your mouth to something foul. 

If you notice any change in the smell of your breath or the everyday taste in your mouth, we encourage you to reach out to your dentist for a check-up. 

Bleeding Gums 

When your gums are swollen and/or bleeding, it can be a symptom of either an oral cavity or gum disease. If a cavity is located close to your gum line, the resulting inflammation and bacteria could spread deeper into your gums and cause occasional or consistent bleeding. 

Since both cavities and gingivitis can develop quickly and lead to dental emergencies, pay close attention to any changes in your gums. 

Not All Cavities Have Noticeable Symptoms 

Especially in the early days of your cavity developing, you likely won’t notice any of these symptoms. This makes it especially important to stay on top of your regular dental exams, professional cleanings, and oral x-rays to catch cavities at any point in their development. 

Whether you’re experiencing one, multiple, or none of these symptoms, the Rhoades DDS team is ready to help establish your oral healthcare home. Reach out to us today!