Tooth decay symptoms

Tooth decay is an extremely common condition that causes painful and sensitive teeth. It’s usually triggered by harmful acids, which eat away at your tooth’s enamel (it’s protective layer) to create small holes known as cavities. Without treatment, these tiny holes will get bigger and bigger, eventually reaching your tooth’s pulp (living tissue), leading to infection and even tooth loss.

The acids can come directly from your diet, for example citrus fruits and wine, or from the bacteria living on your teeth. This thin layer of bacteria is commonly known as plaque and it’s continually forming on your teeth. The bacteria feed off the sugars in your diet, producing teeth-damaging acids in the process. Luckily your plaque levels can be kept in check simply by brushing your teeth twice a day. Cutting back on sugary, acidic foods can also help to reduce your risk of tooth decay.

Tooth decay symptoms

Early detection and treatment of tooth decay is really important, so here’s what you need to look out for:


A common symptom of tooth decay is pain, although it’s not present in every case. This pain could be continuous or an occasional sharp pain. Sometimes teeth that are weakened by decay can fracture, which can expose nerves and cause more intense pain and/or tenderness.


Another symptom of tooth decay is sensitivity, which is the result of damaged, weakened tooth enamel. You may find that affected areas are more susceptible to hot, cold and sweet foods – and you need to chew carefully to avoid sensitive spots.

Dental spots

It’s always good to keep a close eye on the appearance of your teeth. Small white spots can be a sign of tooth demineralization, which can be a symptom of decay. Meanwhile, brown or dark spots can be straightforward discolouration, or the start of a cavity.

Bad breath

Last but not least, bad breath can also be a sign of tooth decay. This can be caused by a build-up of bacteria, or in more severe cases, by the death of a tooth’s pulp – which omits a rather unpleasant odour. You may also experience an unpleasant taste in your mouth.

Tackling tooth decay

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s always best to seek the reassurance of your dentist. You might not have tooth decay, but as we mentioned earlier, early treatment is really important. It could make the difference between a small filling and root canal treatment.

To book a dental health check, please get in touch with our friendly team. You can also find out more about tooth decay treatments here on our website.