Achieving healthy teeth takes a lifetime of care. But even if you take care of your teeth, you might notice some discoloration. It can be tricky to tell the difference between a cavity vs stain on teeth. This is because they can both because by the same thing: bacteria.
However, cavities and stains on teeth are not the same things; knowing how to tell them apart can help you prevent cavities in the future.
If someone has an untreated cavity it will often look like a dark or discolored stain. This is because cavities are caused by plaque (a sticky coating of food particles, saliva, and bacteria that builds up on teeth) which combines with chemicals in your mouth to form acid. The acid eats away at tooth enamel causing cavities.
Stains on teeth are most commonly caused by drinking too much coffee, tea, soda, red wine or smoking cigarettes. These drinks contain acids that react with teeth leaving a discoloration that can be hard to remove. Ultimately, sugar converts into acid in the mouth, which can then erode the enamel of your teeth.
However, not all stains are caused by food or drink. There are several factors that can cause stains on teeth including medication, illness, genetics, and aging.
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People are often confused about the difference between a cavity and staining of the teeth, so here are some facts to help you understand the difference between cavities and stains on teeth.
Cavity vs Stain
Cavities are always caused by tooth decay. Although they may look alike at first glance, cavities have different causes than just being stained or darkened in color. A cavity is caused when plaque sticks to your teeth, especially at the gum line where it’s harder for you to remove it. Bacteria that are present in plaque release acids that can damage teeth over time, causing cavities. Cavities cause tooth pain and tooth tissue loss because of the acid produced by bacteria. The first sign of a cavity is usually a small hole or chipped area on the tooth’s surface, but sometimes you won’t notice any symptoms until the cavity has gotten larger or caused more damage to your teeth.
The symptoms of a cavity include:
- Brown, black off-white spots on the teeth that cannot easily be scraped away with a toothbrush or dental floss.
- A feeling of roughness on your teeth that is difficult to clean. These areas have been eaten away by the acid created from bacteria in plaque.
- Cracks in teeth which become wider as time progresses. The enamel becomes thin, porous and discolored starting from these cracks and becoming larger over time.
- Severe pain when eating cold items or drinking very hot beverages because there is no longer any protection against temperature extremes made from enamel which also protects against the pain caused by hot items.
Cavities are usually treated by removing the decayed part of your tooth and putting in a filling to restore it back to its normal shape and function. If left untreated, a cavity vs stain may cause more serious problems with your teeth such as:
- Toothaches – severe pain in your mouth caused by pressure from food or fluids
- Gum or bone damage
- Tooth loss
- Bad breath
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Cavities are usually painless until they have progressed to the point of breaking through the surface of a tooth. Only then do they become painful because nerves in the center of your tooth (pulp) sense when there is decay present in your tooth. The most common symptom associated with cavities is tooth sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures. Your dentist can easily diagnose cavities during an examination procedure called oral prophylaxis (cleaning).
Cavities should be treated by a dentist. A dentist is trained to see cavities. A cavity in an early stage can be repaired with fluoride or even reversed and remineralized.
Over The Counter Products to Treat Cavities
Stains may resemble cavities but seem to shrink or grow rather than steadily get bigger. They may even disappear after brushing your teeth or changing your diet. Stains can be removed in a dental office in a quick and painless process. However, certain stains like tobacco stains cannot be reversed. When discoloration affects an entire tooth or surrounding teeth, it’s more likely a stain.
Residue from food and drinks is a common cause of tooth stains. These stains may appear suddenly and sometimes disappear just as quickly. Many people are surprised to find out that they have a stain when their teeth look perfectly fine. Coffee, tea, red wine, and dark sodas are the main causes of tooth stains.
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You have many options to remove stains:
- To prevent more staining and discoloration, reduce or eliminate foods and beverages that stain your teeth.
- Brush your teeth twice a day, morning and night. Brushing after eating, drinking darker beverages, and snacks may help prevent staining and discoloration.
- At-home whitening treatments can also be used. Over-the-counter whitening solutions, such as bleaching strips and whitening toothpaste, may assist with surface discoloration.
Sometimes the only way to remove a persistent brown spot is with professional bleaching or whitening. However, these treatments can be expensive and cause temporary sensitivity in some cases. Whitening may not be recommended for those who smoke or chew tobacco because it could bleach fillings as well as the enamel of the tooth.
Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste for at least two minutes each time you brush your teeth. Replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months or sooner if bristles are falling apart. Floss once per day to clean between teeth that are close together.
Clean your tongue every time you brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush or by using a tongue scraper.
Try not to chew ice, hard candy, or popcorn kernels because they can cause chipping and enamel erosion over time. They can also damage existing restorations like fillings or crowns.
Limit the amount of dark-colored beverages, such as cola, coffee, red wine, and tea; these can stain your teeth. If it’s necessary for you to drink these beverages, try drinking through a straw instead of out of the glass directly; this will prevent staining caused by contact with your teeth.
Don forget to schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings. This is an important way to prevent tooth decay and other problems that can lead to a cavity. Brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with fluoride after meals. Floss daily, as it helps remove the plaque (that sticky white stuff) between your teeth where brushing can’t reach.
Do not wait until you develop a cavity before taking care of it; they should be taken care of as early as possible to ensure healthy gums and straight teeth for life.
You may also want to try an alternative approach: brush and floss regularly, limit dark-colored beverages, and visit the dentist regularly instead of just getting regular dental checkups if you’re having issues with cavities or stains on teeth.
Over The Counter Products To Treat Stains
The main difference between a cavity vs stain on teeth is that a cavity is actually something that forms in the tooth itself while a stain only happens on the surface. A superficial or surface stain doesn’t do any damage to your teeth at all and isn’t harmful in any way but if left untreated over time, it can contribute to having teeth with discoloration even though they might not be lose or damaged.