Some people genuinely enjoy guessing games while other people dislike needing to guess at much of anything. However, your health is not an area that anyone wants to spend time guessing about. If you’re having pain in your teeth, you don’t want to guess what’s wrong. You want to know what’s wrong, and you want to know what to do about it.
Particularly if you need to wait for an appointment with your dental care office or are trying to decide if you need an appointment tomorrow or if one next week will do, you want to have some idea if the pain in your mouth is probably a sign of a cavity or if you are suffering from seriously uncomfortable but less urgent tooth sensitivity. Fortunately, there are some indicators that can help you evaluate your pain and the difference between tooth sensitivity and cavity. If you are wondering, “is it a cavity or a sensitive tooth”, ask yourself the following questions to help narrow down likely causes.
Does the Pain Occur Only When Eating or Drinking Hot, Cold, or Sweet/Acidic Foods?
Pain that only occurs when consuming hot or cold foods and drinks only is a classic symptom of tooth sensitivity. The exposed tubules in sensitive teeth allow hot and cold to irritate the nerves in the tooth. Sometimes, people with tooth sensitivity experience irritation and pain when eating sweet or acidic foods as well. But, dental caries expose the inner tooth surfaces and can cause pain while eating and drinking as well. If you are experiencing pain while drinking plain, room temperature water, the odds are that you are not experiencing sensitivity. You are more likely to have a serious problem, like a cavity, and should absolutely consult your dental care team for further evaluation and guidance on how to proceed.
Do You Regularly Clench or Grind Your Teeth?
At first glance, this may seem like a completely unrelated question. However, clenching and grinding your teeth are major contributors to tooth sensitivity. Clenching and grinding are hard on the tooth enamel and can lead to tiny, microscopic cracks in the tooth enamel that contribute to tooth sensitivity. If you find yourself regularly waking up with a sore jaw from a long night of grinding your teeth, if your teeth primarily hurt in the morning, if your tooth sensitivity is associated with achy muscles in your face, if it extends into your ear, or if you notice that you regularly clench your teeth, it’s likely that you are experiencing sensitivity. Still, it’s worth being cautious. Those same microcracks associated with sensitivity can let bacteria into your teeth, and the weakened enamel can leave you more susceptible to dental caries.
Is Your Tooth Pain All Over and General or Centered Around a Specific Spot?
If your tooth pain is diffuse and generalized—that is to say if it hurts over many teeth or in your whole mouth—that pain is more likely to be sensitivity. If you have pain in a specific spot or small area, that’s more often associated with dental caries. The pain may occur more when you’re biting down, or it may start for no reason at all. Pain from dental caries may be sharp or dull, throbbing or consistent. Pain from tooth sensitivity is less likely to start for unknown reasons and tends to be more widespread throughout the teeth.
So, Is It a Cavity or a Sensitive Tooth?
Regardless of the underlying cause, pain in your teeth is not something you need to put up with for long. If you are experiencing discomfort, touch base with your dental care team to see you’re dealing with a sensitive tooth or a cavity. The more information you can share about your pain and when it happens, the better they can help you and determine how soon you need to be seen in the dental office. Dental caries do not resolve without any treatment, and they need to be evaluated promptly to prevent them from getting out of control. Sensitivity can improve with proper care, and your dental care team can make specific recommendations about the treatment best suited to your particular situation.
While you are waiting to be seen, you may benefit from using a toothpaste with nanohydroxyapatite, an ingredient known to help rebuild tooth enamel. Sensitive teeth and teeth susceptible to caries can both benefit from the restorative properties of nanohydroxyapatite.