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Tooth Cavity Vs A Stain | Treatments for Tooth Cavity

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Wondering if your tooth has a cavity or a stain? Read further to find out how you can differentiate between a tooth cavity vs a stain at home.

Cavities and Stains

Cavity and stain are conditions of your teeth that impact either their appearance or function. Though they may have certain similarities in appearance, they differ with respect to the reasons for their development, prognosis, and treatment. A tooth stain is a discoloration on your tooth that occurs due to the food or drink you consume. A cavity appears as a black, grey, or brown spot on your tooth and marks a permanently damaged area on your tooth. Both stains and cavities occur due to poor oral hygiene. Learn about the differences between a tooth cavity vs a stain by reading further.

Tooth Cavity vs. a Stain

Why and Where?

A tooth stain may occur due to some food and drinks. It can occur as a single spot, cover an entire tooth, or many teeth over time if left unchecked. Cavities are formed when bacteria damage the enamel of your teeth and may lead to holes in your teeth, tooth decay, and brittle teeth. A cavity can appear as single or multiple dark spots on your teeth.


Stains do not cause any pain or damage to your teeth, nor do they affect the performance of your teeth. They are only a cosmetic and aesthetic problem. Cavities cause tooth sensitivity, pain, affect the nerve of the tooth and eventually weaken your tooth. A cavity will initially cause tooth sensitivity which will lead to toothache. You cannot use a painful tooth with a cavity to chew hard foods.

Long Term Changes

A stain may shrink or cover larger areas with time or vanish with brushing and a change in diet. Stain is likely to occur if you consume coffee, tea, wine, tomatoes, and soda in excess regularly. Besides, smoking, certain medications, aging, and tartar buildup are other common causes of teeth stains. In contrast, cavities tend to grow bigger and deeper with time and do not resolve without treatment. Stains can also appear with age when the erosion of your teeth’ outer white enamel layer occurs. This happends because the erosion of the enamel exposes the inner slightly yellow layer called dentin. These are not true stains and you cannot treat it either.


A stain is not sticky to the touch, whereas a cavity is sticky. If you neglect a tooth stain, it can lead to a build-up of plaque and eventually tartar and tooth decay. Cavities are sticky and can give rise to the following issues

  • Bad breath
  • Bleeding gums
  • Impart a foul taste to the food you eat

Course of Action

A cavity warrants an immediate trip to the dentist to save the affected tooth. Whereas, you can remedy mild stains with better oral hygiene. Furthermore, avoid and/or limit stain-causing foods like tea, coffee, tomato, wine, soda, etc.

Treatment for Stains

You can prevent or avoid further aggravation of tooth stains by avoiding foods and drinks that cause stains and discoloration of your teeth. Even if you consume such food items, brush your teeth immediately after eating. You can use the counter teeth whitening treatment to remove surface stains. Otherwise, you may avail professional whitening treatments at your dentist’s clinic. Dental bonding, dental veneers, and dental crowns are other professional treatments to whiten and restore discolored or damaged teeth.

Treatment for Cavities

Visit your dentist to get a professional cavity treatment. Depending on the size and extent of your cavity, your dentist will prescribe the following treatments:

  • Cavity filling, which involves removing the decay within the cavity and filling the tooth with a tooth-colored resin. This helps preserve the shape and function of the tooth.
  • The dentist might presribe antibiotics to deal with the bacterial infection.
  • If the damage is to the tooth structure, your dentist will recommend placing a crown or cap over the damaged tooth. If the infection is in the nerve within the tooth, the dentist will recommend a root canal treatment. In a root canal treatment, the doctor will remove the nerve and fill the cavity afterwards.

Note: To prevent a cavity from deteriorating further, you have to give up sugary foods and maintain a strict oral hygiene regimen.

When To See A Dentist

Since a stain and cavity can look similar, visit your dentist when you notice a dark spot and get their professional opinion before acting on your own.

General Advisory

  • Practice the habit of brushing your teeth twice a day with a flouride toothpaste.
  • Regalarly floss your teeth and use antibaterial mouthwashes to rinse your mouth.
  • If you drink any dark-colored beverage, rinse your mouth afterwards.
  • Even if your teeth are all good, visit and get your teeth cleaned professionally twice a year.
  • Limit your intake of sugar and acidic food items.
  • Avoid smoking or consuming excess alcohol.

Now that you know the difference between a tooth cavity vs a stain, be mindful of your oral hygiene. If you notice anything odd with your teeth, seek medical advise immediately.

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