Why Do Cavities Hurt? Understanding Dental Pain and its Causes


Dental pain can be distressing and affect you more than you think. Not only can the pain cause physical discomfort, but also significantly impacts your daily activities. 

From difficulty eating and speaking to constant discomfort and disrupted sleep, the effects of dental pain can be distressing and affect your overall well-being. Whether it’s sharp, throbbing, or persistent pain, addressing the underlying cause is crucial for finding relief and restoring your quality of life. 

In this article, we will delve into the intriguing world of cavities and explore the reasons behind the excruciating pain they can cause. We will look at the common causes of dental pain and provide valuable insights on effective treatments and preventive measures to alleviate discomfort and regain control of your daily activities.


Table of Contents


What are Cavities?

Cavities, also known as dental caries, are decayed areas in the hard surface of your teeth. They form due to bacterial action on the tooth enamel, the protective outer layer. 

When left untreated, cavities can penetrate deeper into the tooth, reaching the dentin and possibly the inner pulp. At this stage, dental pain becomes prominent and necessitates immediate attention.


How Do Cavities Form?

Cavities develop when certain bacteria in your mouth produce acids that attack the tooth enamel. This acid attack occurs when bacteria feed on the carbohydrates from the food you eat, especially sugary and starchy substances. Over time, the acid erodes the enamel, creating a cavity.


The Relationship Between Bacteria and Cavities

Bacteria play a significant role in cavity formation. Streptococcus mutants, a common bacterium found in the mouth, are particularly notorious for their involvement in decay. These bacteria thrive on the sugars from our foods and produce acids that demineralize the enamel, making it susceptible to decay. 

Maintaining good oral hygiene, including regular brushing, flossing, and visits to the dentist, is crucial in preventing the overgrowth of these harmful bacteria.


Why Do Cavities Hurt?

Cavities cause pain due to the interaction between the decayed tooth structure and the sensitive nerves in the tooth’s pulp. When a hole reaches the dentin or pulp, it exposes the nerve endings to external stimuli, leading to discomfort and pain. The nerve endings in the pulp can detect temperature, pressure, and chemical composition changes, triggering pain signals when exposed to the cavity or certain foods and drinks.


The Role of Nerves in Dental Pain

The nerves in our teeth serve as an early warning system, alerting us to potential damage or decay. They are responsible for transmitting sensations to the brain, including pain signals. In the case of cavities, the nerves are susceptible to the presence of harmful bacteria and the erosion of tooth structure. When these nerves are stimulated, they transmit signals to the brain, resulting in the sensation of pain.


The Different Types of Dental Pain

Dental pain can manifest in various ways, depending on the severity and location of the cavity. The most common types of dental pain associated with holes include:


  • Throbbing pain: A persistent, rhythmic pain that may intensify over time.
  • Sharp pain: A sudden, intense pain that occurs when biting down or consuming hot or cold substances.
  • Sensitivity: Increased sensitivity to temperature changes, particularly cold foods and beverages.
  • Pain during chewing: Discomfort or pain experienced while chewing or biting down on food.


5 Symptoms of Cavities

Identifying the symptoms of cavities can help you seek prompt dental treatment and alleviate the associated pain. Look out for the following signs:


  • Toothache: Unexplained or persistent tooth pain
  • Tooth sensitivity: Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet stimuli.
  • Visible holes or pits: Noticeable cavities or discoloration on the surface of the teeth.
  • Bad breath: Foul odor emanating from the mouth.
  • Pus discharge: The presence of pus near the affected tooth.


Diagnosing Cavities: When to Seek Professional Help

While recognizing the symptoms is essential, only a dental professional can accurately diagnose and treat cavities. Dentists use various diagnostic methods, including visual examination, X-rays, and exploratory instruments, to determine the presence and extent of cavities. Regular dental check-ups are crucial for early detection and intervention.


Common Treatments for Cavities

The treatment options for cavities depend on the severity of the decay and the extent of tooth damage. Some common treatments include:


  • Dental fillings: The decayed portion of the tooth is removed, and the resulting cavity is filled with a suitable material such as composite resin, amalgam, or gold.
  • Dental crowns: In cases where the cavity is extensive or has weakened the tooth structure significantly, your dentist may recommend a dental crown. The crown covers and protects the remaining tooth structure.
  • Root canal therapy: When the decay reaches the tooth pulp, a root canal procedure may be necessary. This treatment involves removing the infected pulp, cleaning the root canal, and sealing it to prevent further infection.
  • Tooth extraction: In severe cases where the tooth cannot be saved, extraction may be the only option. Dentists strive to preserve natural teeth whenever possible.


How to Prevent Cavities

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to cavities. Follow these tips to maintain excellent oral health and reduce the risk of cavities:

  • Brush and floss daily: Brush your teeth at least twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss regularly to remove plaque and bacteria.
  • Limit sugary and acidic foods: Minimize your consumption of sugary and acidic foods and beverages, as they contribute to tooth decay.
  • Use fluoride products: Incorporate fluoride mouthwash or toothpaste into your oral hygiene routine to strengthen tooth enamel.
  • Visit the dentist regularly: Schedule routine dental check-ups and professional cleanings every six months to detect and address any dental issues early on.
  • Consider dental sealants: Dental sealants are protective coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to prevent cavity formation.



Understanding why cavities hurt is essential for maintaining good dental health and seeking timely treatment. Cavities result from the interaction between harmful bacteria and tooth enamel, leading to decay and nerve exposure. 

Practicing proper oral hygiene, visiting the dentist regularly, and adopting preventive measures can minimize the risk of cavities and enjoy a pain-free smile. Early detection and treatment are crucial in preserving your natural teeth and avoiding complications.

If you are experiencing dental pain right now, it’s time to overcome it and regain control of your life. Don’t let discomfort hold you back any longer. Make an appointment at Eastman Dental. Your journey to a healthier, happier smile starts here.