Tooth Stain vs Cavity: How to Tell the Difference

Even if you have good oral hygiene and take care of your teeth, you may notice some tooth discoloration. Explore the difference between a tooth stain vs cavity.

Cleaning your teeth is one of the simple but important things you can do for your health. Healthy teeth and clean gums are linked to lower risk for heart disease, and better overall mental health.

Yet, sometimes you’re not sure that you aren’t missing a potential problem. Is that brown mark on your tooth a tooth stain or a cavity?

It’s not obvious, but there are a few signs you can look for. In this article, we’ll give you a full guide to the difference between tooth stain vs cavity, so you never have to worry. 

Read along to learn more!

What Is a Tooth Stain

A tooth stain is a discoloration of a tooth. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including but not limited to intrinsic stains from medications, inborn genetic factors, smoking, food and beverages, and aging. Intrinsic tooth stains occur when substances enter the deeper layers of the tooth, such as the dentin, and are usually caused by certain medications.

Inborn genetic factors can also lead to stains. Smoking and drinking were two of the biggest culprits of tooth stains, as they lead to the build-up of tar and nicotine on tooth surfaces.

Certain foods and beverages can also cause extrinsic tooth stains, as they form a film on the surface of the teeth that can be difficult to remove. Last but not least, aging can play a major factor in tooth staining, as the enamel on the teeth naturally gets thinner as we get older, allowing staining materials, such as chromogenic bacteria, to enter.

What Is a Cavity

A cavity is a small hole in the tooth caused by decay. It is most commonly caused by not brushing and flossing daily, as well as by consuming lots of sugary or acidic foods. Plaque on the teeth will produce bacteria that eat away at the enamel, creating small holes in the teeth and leading to cavities.

Cavities can cause pain, infections, sensitivity, and eventually tooth loss, if not treated. Regular dental check-ups and brushing and flossing twice daily can help stop cavities from forming and cause any existing cavities to heal. Treatment typically involves either a cavity filling or, in more extensive cases, a dental crown.

Risk Factors for Tooth Stains

There are many factors that can contribute to stains on your teeth. Poor oral hygiene, such as not brushing and flossing regularly, can lead to buildup of tartar which can result in yellowing and staining of teeth. Consuming excessive amounts of coffee, tea, red wine, or other dark-colored beverages can also cause tooth staining over time.

Tobacco use, whether smoking or chewing, can also cause tooth staining along with discoloration of the teeth. Certain medications can lead to tooth discoloration, as can fluorosis or excess fluoride. A combination of poor oral hygiene and exposure to these risk factors can help to increase the chance of tooth stains occurring.

Risk Factors for Cavities

Risk factors for cavities include poor oral hygiene, unhealthy diet, inadequate fluoride, dry mouth, orthodontic braces, weakened enamel, and cigarettes. Poor oral hygiene such as not brushing or flossing daily allows plaque to accumulate, which leads to tooth decay.

Unhealthy diets that are high in sugar and low in fiber increase the number of bacteria and contribute to acid erosion. Inadequate fluoride weakens the tooth enamel and increases cavity risk. A dry mouth decreases the amount of saliva that cleanses the mouth and the tooth enamel, leading to an increased risk of cavities.

Orthodontic braces provide nooks and crannies for bacteria to accumulate that could cause cavities. Weakened enamel that is due to genetics or acidic or sugary foods can cause cavities. Cigarettes also increase the risk of cavities due to the chemicals and tars present in cigarette smoke.

Difference Between Tooth Stain and Cavity

Teeth stains and cavities may appear like they have the same cause, but they have different causes and treatments. A tooth stain is primarily caused by things like certain food and drinks, and medications, as well as poor oral hygiene. A stain can often be removed or lightened with a teeth whitening treatment from a dentist, or with over-the-counter products.

Cavities, on the other hand, are caused by decayed tooth enamel, which occurs when acid and bacteria present in the mouth erode tooth enamel. Cavities need to be filled by a dentist, usually with either a metal or composite material.

Tooth stains are considered to be a cosmetic issue, while cavities are considered a dental health issue. Prevention is the key to avoiding both tooth stains and cavities, so it’s important to maintain proper oral hygiene.

Prevention of Tooth Stains and Cavity

To prevent tooth decay, brush your teeth twice daily, use an electric brush, replace your toothbrush every two to three months, and floss between all your teeth at least once a day. Mouthwash can also be beneficial, as it helps to reduce bacteria in your mouth. It is also important to minimize your intake of staining and cavity-inducing drinks such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks.

Avoid sugary snacks and drinks as these can lead to decay. Regular dental check-ups are also important as an Upland Dentist or your dentist can clean any tartar or plaque that you may have missed and check for any early signs of decay. For a healthy and attractive smile, taking preventative measures is essential to avoid tooth staining and cavities.

Learn About a Tooth Stain vs Cavity Today

Tooth stain vs cavity is both common dental issues and can be caused by a variety of factors. Understanding the difference between them and knowing what to look for can help you prevent more severe consequences. If you think you may have either a cavity or a tooth stain, be sure to contact your dentist to get the treatment you need.

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