How To Differentiate Between Cavity Vs. Stain?

Ever looked at your reflection in the mirror and noticed a black spot on your tooth? It is alarming, leaving you pondering if that dot is just a stain from your coffee this morning or something more serious, like a cavity. While you may not think that cavity vs. stain has a lot of differences, the truth is otherwise. Both issues are poles apart, and so are their treatments. Let’s discuss them in detail.

How To Identify Cavity Vs. Stain?

Here’s what you should look for to spot the differences between a cavity vs. a stain:


  1. Appearance
    Cavities, or tooth decay, is permanent damage to the tooth’s surface. It usually starts off small but then becomes bigger and deeper over time. Cavities on teeth look like black, brown, or gray spots on the enamel and are usually accompanied by pain or sensitivity.
  2. Spread and Extent of Damage
    Unfortunately, the damage done is permanent and can spread from the surface to the interior, resulting in pits or holes.
  3. Symptoms
    A cavity vs. stain feels like holes in the teeth, extreme tooth pain, sensitivity, and discomfort when biting. Additionally, there may be sensations of pain when having anything hot, cold, or sweet to eat or drink.
  4. Treatment
    Cavities are not reversible and need prompt treatment from a dental professional. Usually, the procedures that fix the holes in teeth include dental fillings, tooth crowns, or root canals, depending on the severity.


  1. Appearance
    A tooth stain, unlike cavity, is superficial and only affects the outermost layer of teeth – enamel and changes its shade to in various colors such as yellow, brown, or black. Stains do not cause holes and are reversible.
  2. Spread and Extent of damage
    Stains are usually temporary and only affect the appearance of the teeth. They can shrink and grow based on external factors and may resolve after diet, lifestyle, or dental care changes, including professional treatments.
  3. Symptoms
    Tooth stains are generally visibly noticeable without any other symptoms or discomfort that affect tooth health or use.
  4. Treatment
    Tooth stains, unlike cavities, can be reversed by using whitening products or professional treatments like dental bonding or veneers.

Treatment Options – Tooth Stain Vs. Cavity

The treatment for your tooth concern is dependent on whether it is a simple stain or a true cavity.


If staining is the problem, here are some common and easy ways to remove them:

  • Professional teeth whitening
  • Adequately brushing and flossing daily.
  • Using whitening toothpaste.
  • Placing at-home whitening strips.
  • Undergoing professional whitening


You cannot treat cavities yourself at home. The treatment route requires attention from your dentist. The level of treatment you need pivots around on how deep the decay has reached. Dental care specialists choose from any of the following:

  • Dental fillings
  • Crowns or partial crowns
  • Tooth Bonding
  • Root canal therapy

Closing Note

In a nutshell, both a cavity and a stain can look like brown spots on teeth, but the treatment route differs. While dental filling and root canals are good options for cavities, the latter can be resolved via professional whitening sessions. If you want more information on the services we have, get in touch with Dr. Sidra Iqbal at Rio Dental. Our work aims at healing your teeth. Dial (210) 785-8526 to schedule an appointment with us.



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