Tooth sensitivity and cavities are commonly confused for each other and not for nothing. They both cause pain when the affected teeth comes in contact with hot and cold substances, and are interrelated in that untreated cavities are the main cause of sensitivity.
Still, the two are completely distinct conditions, each with its own set of symptoms, definitions, and consequences. Through this article, we will compare and contrast the two across a number of parameters.
Tooth sensitivity is by definition not a tangible dental condition, but a feeling. It's basically the sharp pain or discomfort you feel when you put hot or cold substances in your mouth. This pain or discomfort may also occur when you eat acidic and sugary foods or inhale cold air into your mouth.
A cavity, on the other hand, is a visible hole, or crack on the tooth that runs from the nerve-less enamel to the sensitive inner pulp. Like with sensitivity, there is increased hypersensitivity in the cavity holes when exposed to extreme stimuli such as hot and cold temperatures.
Teeth sensitivity is primarily characterized by a temporary pain that goes away as soon as you stop consuming the problematic foods. This pain may also show up when brushing or flossing teeth due to exposure to toothpaste and cold air. Sensitive teeth are, however, normal-looking and are in fact very smooth on the edges.
On their part, cavities cause perennial pain that may sometimes come up even when you're not brushing or eating anything. Teeth with cavities also have visible holes, as previously mentioned, and may also have some visible black stains on the outer surface. But unlike with tooth sensitivity, cavity pain is permanent and only goes away when treated.
Each of these conditions is caused by different things, although they do have a number of similar causes.
Tooth sensitivity is typically caused by the gradual deterioration of the enamel, which may be due to improper brushing techniques, using excessively hard toothbrushes, and consuming sugary or acidic foods and drinks.
Cavities, on their part, are mainly caused by poor oral hygiene practices, particularly not brushing as often as you should. The unchecked accumulation of food particles in between the teeth eventually develops into plaque, and subsequently harbors all sorts of bacteria. Both of these slowly wear out the teeth coating causing cavities and other infections.
When you suspect that your child has either, or both of, cavities and sensitivity, schedule a meeting with a kid's dentist at the soonest possible time. The dentist will presumably conduct a dental exam and diagnose the specific problem then the treatment will start from there.
Notably, the most common treatment for sensitive teeth is a special toothpaste that calms the nerves and mitigates the pain. For this treatment to work, and as your dentist will tell you, your child has to brush their teeth at least twice a day after they take their meals.
For cavities, the only treatment available is removal of the affected portion of the teeth, then filling up the cavity with dental cement.