A brown spot on your tooth can be unsettling. Sometimes these spots are simply stains from eating and drinking certain foods. Other times, a brown spot may indicate something more serious, like a cavity, that needs treatment. But how can you tell if it is a cavity vs. a stain?
Brown spots on teeth
Most people will experience a brown spot on one or more of their teeth at some point in life. Brown spots can either be harmless or they may be something that requires a dental visit to check. Knowing the difference can be tricky. No matter the reason, talking with your dentist is the best option to ensure a concern is taken care of. However, some signs may help you differentiate between a cavity and a stain.
How to tell if it is a stain
Stains on teeth are common, especially for people who frequently drink beverages such as coffee, wine, soda and tea. These beverages may slowly stain teeth over time and appear as brown spots or can cause a yellow appearance to the teeth. Stains do not necessarily cause serious damage to your teeth.
In addition to certain beverages, there are other causes behind tooth stains:
- Tobacco use
- Certain medications
- Overusing fluoride on teeth
- A buildup of plaque or tartar on teeth
Another sign that you have staining rather than a cavity is that the entire tooth will have a different color, not a single spot. It’s uncommon for a single stain spot to appear on a tooth.
Most of the time, teeth stains will appear and disappear quickly. If a spot on a tooth seems to come and go, it’s likely a stain. However, if the spot remains consistent and grows over time, it’s time to see the dentist.
How to treat stains on teeth
Stains on teeth can be annoying, but the good news is they can be treated. Many times, at-home treatments can help dramatically.
Treatments for stained teeth:
- Reduce or cut out the foods or beverages that may be causing stains on the teeth
- Increase the number of times you brush throughout the day, especially after consuming stain-causing foods and beverages
- Try at-home whitening treatments such as whitening strips or toothpaste
Unlike cavities, stains can be managed at home. However, if you have trouble removing a stain or if you notice that it’s growing in size, it’s important to talk with an oral health professional.
How to tell if it is a cavity
Most of the time, it is easy to tell a cavity from a stain due to the uncomfortable side effects that come from a cavity. However, there are some situations in which it is hard to tell the difference, especially when a cavity is small. It’s important to have any new spots on a tooth checked by a dentist so they can be treated, if necessary.
What is a cavity?
Cavities are holes in teeth that grow larger over time. Cavities, also known as tooth decay or caries, may be caused by things such as poor oral health care, eating foods high in sugar and snacking throughout the day. Cavities are one of the most common oral health problems.
Signs that it’s a cavity
Spots on your tooth or teeth that are black, brown or gray may be signs that a cavity is present. However, there are many other symptoms that indicate if a spot is a cavity rather than a stain:
- Visible holes in the teeth. If you notice a hole in your tooth, it’s a cavity. Stains don’t cause holes in teeth.
- Increase in tooth pain. At the beginning, tooth pain may come and go. If it’s a cavity, the pain may become constant. Pain caused by a cavity can radiate to other parts of your body including the jaw and ears. Any tooth pain should be evaluated by a dentist.
- New sensitivity: If drinking an ice-cold beverage or biting into a hot food makes you squirm, it could be a sign you have a cavity. This is because the tooth enamel is breaking down and can expose sensitive parts of your teeth.
How to treat a cavity
Cavities must always be treated by a dentist. Only a dentist has the proper tools and experience to fill a cavity.
During a cavity treatment, your dentist will either perform a filling, dental crown or root canal depending on the severity of the tooth decay.
- Filling: Getting a filling is the most common way a cavity is treated. During the procedure, a dentist will remove the damaged parts of the tooth and fill it with resin that matches the tooth color. This is done painlessly with the help of numbing medication.
- Dental crown: In some cases, a cavity destroys the entirety of a tooth and it’s no longer able to be fixed with just a filling. Dental crowns are artificial teeth that are anchored to the natural teeth.
- Root canal: Root canals may sound scary but they are a painless procedure that helps in cases where the cavity has grown deep enough to reach the nerve in the tooth.
It’s important to get cavities treated as soon as possible to reduce the risk of pain or other complications.
Whether you have a cavity or a stain, seeing a dentist twice a year can help prevent both. Be sure to reach out to your dentist with these, or any other oral health concerns, no matter how small they may seem.