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Sensitive Teeth vs. a Cavity: How to Tell

Sensitive Teeth vs. a Cavity: How to Tell

While cavities can cause tooth sensitivity, there is a difference between chronically sensitive teeth and a cavity. Here are the differences, the symptoms, and how to tell when there are sensitive teeth in your child or cavities.


Sensitive teeth occur when a stimulant, like excessively hot or cold food, comes into contact with the teeth. The tooth enamel is usually thin, which means the nerves in the teeth are closer to the surface, so the extreme temperatures cause pain.

A cavity is a hole in the tooth that sometimes reaches down into the pulp. This allows bacteria to enter the tooth, which can cause sensitivity and pain.


When looking at sensitive teeth vs. a cavity, the symptoms are important. Teeth sensitivity in a child is usually expressed as temporary pain after consuming something hot or cold. If they eat ice cream or drink hot chocolate and experience pain that fades once the food is consumed, for example, it’s probably sensitive teeth.


If your child’s teeth are correctly shaped and smooth on the edges and they feel pain when eating or drinking something hot or cold, that’s another indication of teeth sensitivity rather than a cavity.

A cavity often causes a constant, dull ache rather than a momentary sharp pain, The pain from a cavity often won’t go away after eating or drinking. You may also see black spots on your child’s teeth or the edges may look rough.


Sensitive teeth vs. a cavity have different causes. Brushing too hard can wear away at tooth enamel, as can a diet high in acidic foods. Brushing too hard is more common than acid damage amongst children and can cause tooth sensitivity.

Cavities are caused by poor oral hygiene or diets high in sugar. Poor oral hygiene includes not brushing twice per day, not flossing, and not seeing a dentist every six months for regular cleanings and fluoride treatments.

Treatment and Prevention

In both cases, a visit to the dentist is the best way to treat sensitive teeth and cavities. If your child has sensitive teeth, your dentist may recommend a toothpaste to treat the condition. It’s especially important to brush twice per day, as the toothpaste is the treatment. For a cavity, the treatment is to have it cleaned and filled.

The treatments for sensitive teeth vs. cavity prevention are similar as well. Proper oral hygiene, including diets low in sugar and acids, will help teeth remain healthy. Ensure your child brushes twice per day with fluoride toothpaste, and flosses and uses mouthwash once they’re old enough.

Contact Children’s Dentistry in Las Vegas

If you’re not sure if it’s sensitive teeth or a cavity, contact Children’s Dentistry in Las Vegas today. We will examine your child’s mouth to figure out what’s going on and prescribe appropriate treatments. No matter if it’s sensitive teeth vs. a cavity, we have the expertise to care for your child.

Call us at (702) 832-0508 to schedule your appointment or contact us online.