“Does it hurt?” or How do dentists tell if a tooth has a cavity?


Dental caries in a senior patient before treatment

Most people tend think their teeth are perfect, but once they do decide to visit their dentist, their resolve is shaken. How can your dentist tell if the tooth has a cavity? The dentist examines their teeth and at once they begin to tell that something is wrong if the whole examination took a little while longer to the normal checkup, or if the dentist starts to bring in things off the table, and starts to ask the familiar question: “Does it hurt?”. Many times in our clinic, I have seen reactions from our patients ranging from a stunned gaze all the way to “no, Doc, you are wrong, my teeth are perfect”, and the final result is usually baffling.

Telltale signs

what if you as a person could look at your own teeth. Can you see any of these features?

  • chipping (little cracks running on the tooth)

  • mamelons (the little knobs that most people have at the edges of their front teeth)

  • white lines or dark lines on the back teeth

  • broken front tooth

  • yellow white spots under the surface

  • yellow brown pits on the surface (like freckles)

  • dark tops on the back teeth

  • hollow teeth

What about feel?

what if you could feel any of these, along with the signs

  • bad breath

  • pain on chewing, or hot drinks, or cold drinks, or just by closing on teeth

  • tongue touching a jagged or a pointy edge

  • food getting stuck between teeth unlike before

  • looseness of teeth 

  • bleeding from the gum especially when brushing

  • pain in the top teeth with bowing down

  • pain on a flight from teeth

  • tooth chipping away with food

If any of these signs and symptoms are experienced, we can safely assume to know that you have at least one tooth that requires care.

What is that poker thing you used?

Your tooth is normally protected by the outer shell layer - Enamel. The hook we use (pictured below) is one of the means of telling if indeed that shell has been compromised. Because the enamel layer is very strong, that hook (we call it the dental probe) is what we often use to move across the surface of the tooth and check in between the teeth, since we cant look in between two teeth, in a closed mouth, to probe for cavities, and if the cavities do exist (and often times, we are equally surprised they do, along with our patients), we have what we call a catch. This means the tooth is compromised and the enamel layer is breached where the catch is, and that means we need to also take an x-ray. 

dental probe photo taken by Dr Adel Zakhary

Must you always use the probe?

No. There are other advanced means to tell. We have cavity detector dyes, x-rays, and your signs and symptoms from earlier. We sometimes resort to these, only in cases where the tooth is visibly destroyed, and we need to make sure we are not going to walk in to the root canal, or if indeed, there is one to begin with. 

dental panoramic x-ray showing many teeth requiring fillings Dr Adel Zakhary

How can I make sure my teeth do not get painful during Covid-19?

The whole world got shook up by the outbreak of Covid-19, especially countries like the UK, USA, and India. Lots of loved ones and friends, as well as professionals were lost due to the pandemic. With the third wave about, you can schedule an appointment at your nearest dentist

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