Have you ever looked at your teeth? And we mean really looked at them under a bright light? If you have, you might have noticed a small dark spot here and there on and in between teeth (and if you’re lucky and take stellar care of your teeth, maybe you don’t have any dark spots, in which case, ignore this post!)

We get questions about these from concerned patients who suspect they might have a cavity they cannot feel, and we’re so glad when people bring it up for reasons we’ll talk about below.

So, the golden question: are these spots cause for concern?

The answer: maybe. There are a few reasons for a dark spot to form.

1. It’s a cavity.

As acid and bacteria wear away enamel and expose the soft dentin underneath, it leaves a dark spot. Your dentist can tell if it’s a cavity by poking it with a tool called a dental explorer to see if the material in the dark spot is hard or soft. If it’s hard, they’re striking hard tooth structure, but if it feels sticky, it’s a good sign the enamel has softened and even exposed the dentin underneath. Decay or “cavities” are often painless until they are significantly deeper. Once they are showing symptoms it is possible there is some degree of nerve or “pulp” involvement which could require additional procedures to resolve. The process commonly referred to as “cavities” are a type of bacterial infection and will continue to get worse over time. 

Depending on what they see, your dentist may take action that day to stop the spread of infection, or they may just keep an eye on it, as you can prevent these small cavities from growing by brushing and flossing effectively.

2. It’s a surface stain caused by food or drinks.

In this case, the stain is usually easily removed at your next dental appointment. Some medications can also cause tooth stains, but this is more rare.

3. It’s a tooth injury. 

If you knock a tooth enough to break off a bit or cause cracks, this can cause dark spots. 

Regardless of why you have a dark spot, it’s a great idea to take a vested interest in your oral health and pay attention to these spots, as well as any rising sensitivity or pain. An untreated cavity can eventually spread infection to your root (gross, right?), so make sure you visit your dentist regularly and ask about any concerns you have.