A person may experience a painless hole in a tooth, such as a molar, in the early stage of a cavity. Even though there is no pain, this still requires attention from a dentist to prevent further decay of the tooth.

A hole in a tooth is a cavity. As bacteria and acid continue to breach the tooth’s enamel, the cavity grows and tooth decay continues — unless the person receives professional treatment.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children and adults in the United States, and it is preventable.

Oral health has a significant impact on the quality of life, as it can affect the way a person eats, drinks, smiles, and speaks. Receiving care, for even painless issues, right away can help prevent significant pain and expense later on.

A person with a hole in their tooth receiving a dental procedure at a dental office.Share on Pinterest
Image credit: skynesher/Getty Images

Cavities do not hurt in their early stages, and they are easier for dentists to treat when they are small and painless.

The symptoms of a cavity vary, depending on the stage of tooth decay. Early on, a person may not notice the hole.

Below, find cavity signs and symptoms in the order that they occur:

  1. a white area on the tooth
  2. a gray or otherwise dark area on the tooth
  3. a visible area of decay on an X-ray
  4. sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods
  5. a hole in the tooth
  6. tooth pain
  7. sensitivity to pressure
  8. an infection
  9. extreme tooth pain
  10. the formation of an abscess, a pus-filled pocket near the tooth or gum
  11. bad breath
  12. a persistent bad taste in the mouth
  13. a swollen face
  14. a fever

To treat a cavity, a dentist removes the damaged area of the tooth and replaces it with a filling material. This may be a mixture of metals or a composite material that more closely resembles the color of the tooth.

If there is a risk of pain, the dentist will numb the affected area with a surface swab or injection before beginning the treatment.

Anyone who finds a hole in a tooth should see a dentist, even if they have no pain. Regular dental checkups are important for everyone, even when there are no noticeable issues.

A dental checkup tends to involve:

  • a medical history
  • a visual examination of the mouth and teeth
  • a physical exam, during which the dentist checks for soft areas of the teeth, light or dark spots, and holes
  • one or more X-rays
  • an evaluation for gum disease
  • an oral cancer screening

Also, a person usually receives a thorough teeth cleaning and, sometimes, an application of a fluoride gel to prevent infections.

No. A person may mistakenly believe that treating a cavity simply involves filling the hole in the tooth.

Actually, the goal is to stop tooth decay from progressing and make sure that the tooth is again strong enough to function and resist bacteria, acid, and decay.

A dentist assesses all areas of decay then carefully drills them away before replacing the damaged area with a durable professional filling.

Tooth decay affects 97% of people around the world, meaning that most people are at risk of developing cavities.

Frequent snacking on sugary drinks, sweets, and starches can play a role in developing tooth decay. These foods and beverages interact with bacteria in the mouth to create acid, which can erode the enamel of the teeth.

Without a dentist’s care, this acid eats away at the enamel and cavities form.

Cavities are more common in children, though they can develop at any age. Adults with older fillings may develop tooth decay along the edges of these fillings, which can weaken and break over time.

Receding gums, which many adults experience as they get older, can also increase the risk of cavities — having a lower gumline exposes more of the tooth to plaque, bacteria, and acid, making it more vulnerable to decay.

Teeth less protected by gums are also more sensitive to heat, cold, and pressure.

Untreated cavities and gum disease eventually result in the loss of teeth.

Without professional care, a cavity grows, increasing the risk of infection and becoming more painful. An infection can cause dental abscesses, pockets of pus, to form near the affected tooth.

These pockets are extremely painful, and they often require root canals. There is also a risk of the infection spreading.

Consistently practicing good dental hygiene is the best way to prevent cavities and their complications.

The key components of good dental hygiene include:

  • brushing twice a day
  • flossing daily
  • using a toothpaste or mouthwash that contains fluoride and drinking fluoridated tap water
  • limiting snacking between meals
  • cutting down on sugary drinks and eating fewer sweets and starches
  • avoiding tobacco
  • seeing a dentist twice a year for a thorough cleaning and checkup

If a hole in a tooth is painless, a person may put off a trip to the dentist. However, it is crucial to receive treatment right away.

All cavities grow, become painful, and can cause complications without professional care. They are easier for dentists to treat in their early, painless stages.

Having good daily dental hygiene and seeing a dentist at least twice a year for a thorough cleaning and checkup can help prevent tooth decay and subsequent cavities.