Cavity Between Teeth: What You Should Know

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

We've been warned about cavities since we were children overeating sweets. Cavities happen as a result of tooth decay. Cavities are caused when there is food that is left to decay on your teeth. Bacteria live in the plaque on your teeth and breakdown sugar to produce acid. The acid demineralizes the enamel, or protective outer layer, of your teeth. If not stopped, it can cause a cavity.

A cavity between two teeth—whether between two molars or other teeth—is known as an interproximal cavity. If you have ever had a cavity, the chances are you have had an interproximal cavity. Interproximal cavities form just like any other—because of the wearing away of the enamel (the outer layer of the tooth) on one or more teeth.

This article will discuss what an interproximal cavity feels like and what can be done to treat it.

Female patient with open mouth receiving dental inspection at dentist's office

M_a_y_a / Getty Images

Signs and Symptoms of a Cavity Between the Teeth

There are many symptoms and signs of a cavity, which can vary depending on their extent and location. It is possible not to experience any symptoms at all at the beginning stages of cavity development, As the decay becomes larger, you may notice these signs:

  • Toothache, spontaneous pain, or pain that occurs without any apparent cause
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot, or cold
  • Visible holes or pits in your teeth
  • Brown, black or white staining on any surface of a tooth
  • Pain when you bite down

You May Not Experience Symptoms

Sometimes a cavity is found before you even experience symptoms. This may happen when you have X-rays (also known as radiographs) done at a dental appointment and your dentist notices signs of a cavity.

Learn more: What Dental X-Rays Are Used For

Treating Cavities

Regular checkups at the dentist can help identify cavities before they cause more serious issues that can then lead to long-term problems. Here we will narrow down some of the treatment options to consider when struggling with cavities.

Remineralization

Remineralization is a natural tooth repair process. Your body takes calcium and phosphate minerals from your saliva and deposits them in your enamel.

Your teeth lose minerals in a process called demineralization, which happens as you eat and drink throughout the day. Tooth demineralization happens naturally. It can become a problem when your body can’t replace what you lose. Lots of factors affect demineralization, including mouth bacteria, mouth acid, and saliva. 

Remineralization helps replace those lost minerals to keep your teeth strong and prevent tooth disease. Remineralization agents work to strengthen the enamel by helping them absorb minerals such as calcium and phosphate. Fluoride—which is a mineral that is added to drinking water to prevent tooth decay—also binds to enamel to make it more resistant to acid destruction.

If you have more tooth demineralization (mineral loss) than remineralization (mineral gain), you’ll get cavities.

Filling

After the decay is removed by the dentist, a filling is placed to prevent restore function, aesthetics and aid in preventing further tooth damage and tooth loss. A filling seals a hole, or cavity, in the tooth. When considering fillings, you should be aware of the different types available such as:

  • Amalgam fillings: These are made of silver, tin, copper, and mercury. It's hard, long-lasting, and less expensive than other types of fillings.
  • Composite fillings: These are made of resin and plastic material. It's placed into the cavity while soft, then hardened with bright blue "curing" light.
  • Glass ionomer fillers: These are made out of glass and acrylic. They are weaker, which generally makes them better for children whose teeth are changing.
  • Gold fillings: These are, as the name says, made of gold. Gold fillings are very durable, but also expensive and therefore not very common.

A filling is an in-office procedure. Your dentist applies a numbing gel to the gums. Once this has taken effect, they inject a local anesthetic into the gum. Using a drill or another specialized tool, the dentist removes the decayed area of the tooth and then fills the hole in the tooth. The last step involves polishing and adjusting the filling so that your bite feels normal.

Root Canal

If your tooth or its root is damaged by trauma, you will typically experience pain and increased sensitivity in that tooth. Having frequent pain when you bite down can be a sign that your tooth may need root canal surgery.

When a cavity progresses to the point that it involves the pulp (the chamber in the tooth containing the nerve and blood vessels), a root canal may be necessary to repair and save a badly damaged or infected tooth instead of removing it. The diseased tooth pulp is removed. Medication is sometimes put into the root canal to clear any infection. Then the pulp is replaced with a filling. This also treats potential infections and dental abscesses.

Crown

Your teeth can get damaged over time. This can happen for a variety of reasons, like cavities between your teeth caused by tooth decay. Dental crowns are tooth-shaped “caps” that can be placed over your tooth.

A dental crown is cemented into place on your tooth and it covers the visible portion of the tooth.

You may need a dental crown for several reasons, including:

  • Protecting a weak tooth (possibly from decay or cavities) from breaking, or keeping the weak tooth together if parts of it are cracked.
  • Restoring a broken tooth or a severely worn down tooth.
  • Covering and supporting a tooth with a large filling and not much tooth remaining.
  • Covering misshapen or severely discolored teeth.
  • Covering a tooth that’s been treated with a root canal.

Extraction

It is possible for teeth to be so badly damaged by cavities that your best option might be extraction. This is usually the case for severe cavities when the tooth is so damaged by the cavities that it can't be repaired and must be removed. The root must be extracted, or pulled.

Tooth extraction is a fairly simple procedure that will involve local anesthesia to numb the area. Your oral surgeon will then extract the entire tooth, including the root. Bone-grafting material will be placed in the extraction socket, in some cases. The entire procedure takes on average around one hour.

Regular Dental Examinations

The most essential step towards preventing cavities is having regular examinations by a dentist. For the most part, cavities can only be detected by a dentist or a dental X-ray. Having regular check-ups and cleanings is a key factor in preventing cavities and staying on top of good oral hygiene.

Prevention

There are many simple steps that one can took to help prevent cavities. These steps begin with good oral and dental hygiene. Try following some of these recommendations:

  • Brush with fluoride toothpaste after eating or drinking at least twice a day and ideally after every meal. Make sure to floss between your teeth.
  • Use a mouth rinse with fluoride.
  • Make sure to visit your dentist for regular check-ups.
  • Stick to a tooth-healthy diet. Avoid foods that get stuck in grooves and pits of your teeth. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables increase saliva flow which is beneficial for good oral hygiene.

Summary

Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth. They can be caused by bacteria and not maintaining good oral hygiene.

An interproximal cavity is a cavity that forms between two teeth—whether between two molars or other teeth. If you have ever had a cavity, the chances are you have had an interproximal cavity. Interproximal cavities form just like any other because of the wearing away of the enamel on one or more teeth.

There are many ways to treat cavities, including fillings, root canals, or crowns. Under circumstances where the tooth has been so badly damaged due to cavities, an extraction may be the best option to consider.

A Word From Verywell

Now that you are aware of what cavities are and how to treat them, the most important thing to keep in mind is how important good oral hygiene can go. Maintaining healthy oral habits can prevent cavities from building up in the future. There are many simple steps in cavity prevention. By making these healthy habits a part of your daily routine, you can help prevent cavities in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to fill a cavity between teeth?

    In general, a filling should take an hour or less. It could take longer or require a second visit, depending on the materials used for the filling.

  • How does a dentist fill a cavity between teeth?

    Your dentist should first numb the area and use a dental instrument to remove the decayed part of the tooth. Once the entire decayed area of the tooth is removed, the cavity is cleaned to create space for filling. A tooth-colored filling will be used to give the teeth a more natural look.

  • What does a cavity look like between teeth?

    A dental cavity can range in color from white to brown and eventually black as the cavity continues to grow. The shape of a cavity is organic and changes as the cavity grows in width and depth.
    Cavities between teeth may develop if a person does not effectively remove trapped plaque and food debris from the side surfaces of teeth. Usually, cavities that develop between teeth are often not visible to the naked eye.

Was this page helpful?
11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Tooth decay (caries or cavities)

  2. Gomez J. Detection and diagnosis of the early caries lesion. BMC Oral Health. 2015;15(1):S3. doi:10.1186/1472-6831-15-S1-S3

  3. Philip N. State of the art enamel remineralization systems: the next frontier in caries managementCaries Res. 2019;53(3):284-295. doi:10.1159/000493031

  4. Rasines Alcaraz MG, Veitz-Keenan A, Sahrmann P, Schmidlin PR, Davis D, Iheozor-Ejiofor Z. Direct composite resin fillings versus amalgam fillings for permanent or adult posterior teethCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(3):CD005620. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005620.pub2

  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Root canals: endodontics.

  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Crowns, bridges and other cast restorations.

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Oral surgery.

  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Oral hygiene.

  9. Walsh T, Worthington HV, Glenny AM, Marinho VC, Jeroncic A. Fluoride toothpastes of different concentrations for preventing dental cariesCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019;3(3):CD007868. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007868.pub3

  10. Gondivkar SM, Gadbail AR, Gondivkar RS, et al. Nutrition and oral healthDis Mon. 2019;65(6):147-154. doi:10.1016/j.disamonth.2018.09.009

  11. Bowen WH. Dental caries - not just holes in teeth! A perspectiveMol Oral Microbiol. 2016;31(3):228-233. doi:10.1111/omi.12132