Your child comes to you grabbing their cheek and complaining about pain. A wave of worry suddenly comes over you. You peer into their mouth to investigate the problem, but you already have a feeling that the culprit is a cavity.

Research shows that 52% of children 6-8 years old have had cavities in their baby teeth. Fifty-seven percent of adolescents 12-19 years old have had cavities in their adult teeth. Kids can easily get cavities if they don’t flush and brush properly.

It’s important to recognize the signs that your child may have a cavity, but what does a cavity look like? Let’s explore how you can recognize the signs that your child may have a cavity.

What Does a Cavity Look Like?

White spots on children’s tooth surfaces are signs that cavities are beginning to develop. Suppose you see a white area on your child’s tooth darken to black or brown. This is a sign that a cavity has already formed.

Some cavities develop in hard-to-see areas, like between teeth. Others can easily be seen on the teeth’s front or chewing surfaces.

Take your child to their pediatric dentist immediately if you notice a pit or hole in one of their teeth. The dentist can take an X-ray of your child’s teeth and detect a new cavity before you can see it outright.

How Do Cavities Form?

Cavities have several possible causes. A common cause is starchy or sugar food that a child hasn’t removed from their teeth. Other causes include:

  • Subpar dental care at home
  • Being genetically prepositioned to have soft enamel
  • Not visiting the dentist for six-month cleanings
  • Not receiving enough fluoride through tap water
  • Being given a bottle before bed (for babies)

Your child’s mouth contains bacteria that eat starches and sugars on their teeth from their meals. The bacteria generate acids that break down the hard surface layer of their teeth. This is called enamel.

The bacteria’s enamel erosion creates cavities (holes) in the teeth. These holes may cause infection, sensitivity, and pain if not treated.

Cavity-Spotting Tips

Does your little one breastfeed throughout the night? You may see a cavity form near their gums on their front teeth. A cavity might also develop between their central incisors, the two top teeth at the center of their mouth.

What if your child doesn’t brush their teeth regularly? Their cavities may develop on their molars’ chewing surfaces. The molars are the back teeth.

Kids who don’t floss regularly might get cavities between the molars. These are usually visible only on X-rays.

Front-Teeth Cavities

Cavities on your child’s front teeth usually look brown or yellow-orange. You might notice this coloration at your child’s gum line or between the central incisors. Kids who bottle-feed or breastfeed at night may form black or dark gray cavities.

Chewing-Surface Cavities

Chewing-surface cavities typically look dark purple or black with a shadow surrounding them. You’ll notice this coloration in the lower molars’ deeper grooves.

You may also notice it on the upper molars. Ask your child to lie down, tilt their head backward, and open their mouth in a bright room so you look for dark coloration on the top back teeth.

Word of Caution About Color

Tooth stains may take on various colors, primarily black or brown. These stains usually collect in the molar teeth’s grooves. This means you can easily mistake stains for cavities on your child’s back teeth.

That’s why dental checkups are so important. Your children’s dentist can use their X-rays and high-powered dental headlamps to thoroughly examine your child’s smile for cavities.

The dentist may be able to detect a cavity in your child’s tooth before it causes significant problems, like an adult cavity or gum disease. They may pull the teeth if it’s a baby tooth ready to fall out, or they might place a silver cap on a baby tooth that’s not ready to be removed. A permanent tooth will require a dental filling to treat a cavity.

Baby Molar Cavities

Sometimes baby molar cavities aren’t detectable until your child has fractured their tooth. Your child’s pediatric dentist can spot this cavity on a dental X-ray.

A fracture may happen if a child’s cavity becomes so severe that it undermines their tooth’s biting surface. The child might break this surface area while chewing food.

You might think the problem is a simple fracture or chip when your child complains about tooth pain. The actual reason for this fracture or chip may be an underlying cavity.

Cavity Symptoms in Kids

How can you tell your child has a cavity when you can’t see it? Your child might be sensitive to cold and hot foods and drinks. They might also complain about experiencing pain when they consume sugary drinks and foods.

Has your little one been irritable, or have they been crying more than usual? Do you notice swelling in their cheeks? These are other signs of a cavity.

Preventing Cavities in Kids

Your child can avoid cavities by brushing their teeth twice daily with fluoride-containing toothpaste. Just a smear of toothpaste will suffice for toddlers and babies.

Children ages 6 and older might also benefit from fluoride mouthwash. Encourage your child to floss daily to prevent cavities between their teeth.

Limit your child’s starchy and sugar drinks, like soda, sweet tea, sports drinks, and sweetened milk. Scheduling your child for a dental cleaning and checkup every six months is another crucial step in keeping your child’s pearly whites cavity-free.

How We Can Help Your Child’s Teeth

You might be wondering, “What does a cavity look like?” Cavities may look brown or yellow-orange on your child’s front teeth. They might look dark purple or black on their back teeth’s chewing surfaces.

Signs that your child has a cavity include sensitivity to hot, cold, and sugary foods. Good brushing and flossing habits and regular dental visits may help your child avoid cavities.

We offer high-quality oral care services at Beaumont Kids Dentistry, the leading dentist for kids in Lexington, KY. Schedule a dental checkup for your child today!