Cavity Vs Stain: Differences & Similarities

Cavity vs stains often get people confused on the difference between both of them. There is always some form of panic when we examine our teeth in the mirror and see a dark spot on the enamel. The confusion is whether the dark spot is just a stain or a cavity.

If it is a stain, we are somehow safe but the thought of having cavities might make us to book appointment with our dentist. Well, this is because both stains and cavities look similar, so how do we know the difference between both of them?

Just have it in mind that your dentist will give you lots of lectures when you are being treated for a cavity, this means that cavities are more dangerous than stains. Let us compare both dental issues while also looking at their differences.


One of the differences between cavity and stain is their meaning. Cavity is a hole that develops on a tooth due to bacteria. Cavity develops over time when the acid plaques slowly eats away at tooth enamel. The bacteria and acid in the mouth feeds on leftover food particles and breaks down the enamel in the process, this process is known as demineralization.

If the cavity is not treated at the early stage, it can create holes in the teeth which can lead to other dental problems like decay and tooth loss. Cavity permanently damages areas of the teeth.

Stain on the other hand, is not as dangerous as cavity. It only affects the tooth enamel. Stain is caused by eating certain foods or taking some drinks which can change the color of the enamel to a different shade depending on what was eaten. Stain does not mean that the teeth is unhealthy, a healthy teeth can also get stained. Some stains can fade away after you brush your teeth. 



Tooth stain only affects the look, it does not affect the inner layer or tamper with the health of your teeth. The only sign of a tooth stain is discoloration and this depends wholly on the substance you have taken. Stain affects all the teeth, it changes the color of all teeth and may go off if you brush.

Some yellowish stains may be caused by old age, this is bound to happen as the enamel wears off as we get older. The yellow stains are not really classified as stains because they are just the dentin layer of the teeth which are being exposed.

Some tooth stain can be:

  • Red if you eat tomato sauce, pepper sauce or lots of tomatoes.
  • Brown or black if you drink lots of coffee without brushing your teeth shortly after.
  • Brown if you smoke tobacco or if you are a heavy smoker
  • Yellow if you eat lots of sugary or starchy foods.
  • Brown stains from certain medications and antibiotics.


Cavity can cause stains but their stain is just on a tooth, it can come as a spot. Other than the stain, there are symptoms that will be noticed.

  • Toothache: This pain is not like the random pain that comes and goes, it is incessant and does not go away even after taking pain relief drugs. Stain can never cause pains and aches in the teeth.
  • Tooth sensitivity: Exposing the teeth to hot or cold temperature can lead to a form of pain or shock, this is another sign that you have a cavity and not a stain. The sensitivity is a sign that your enemarl is becoming weak.
  • Severe pain while eating or drinking: The pain from the tooth can prevent you from eating foods especially crunchy foods. 
  • Holes in the tooth: Cavity causes holes to develop in the tooth. If you notice any hole in your tooth, do not discard it as a stain or minor issue and see a dentist immediately. The hole is a sign that your cavity is getting larger.
  • Stain: Cavity can cause some part of your tooth to have stains. It could be chalky, yellow, grey, black or brown depending on the stage of the cavity. 


Stain is caused by residue of food or drinks, they appear when you are eating or drinking these substances and fade off after some time or when you brush.

Some causes of stains on the teeth are:

  • Eating foods like tomatoes and sauces made with tomatoes
  • Drinking wines, coffee, tea and sodas
  • Smoking tobacco and cigarettes
  • Certain medications like antibiotics and antihypertensive drugs
  • Plaques that have become hardened.

Causes of cavities are:

  • Lack of saliva or dry mouth
  • Poor oral hygiene like brushing and flossing after each meal
  • Eating too much sugary or acidic foods and drinks
  • Lack of fluoride in the teeth
  • Acid reflux disease.


Just like there are different causes of these dental issue, their treatment methods are different too. 

To treat stains on the teeth, you have to:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day: Brushing your teeth after eating foods especially those that can leave stains on the teeth is the best way to treat stains immediately they are left on the teeth.
  • Reduce eating foods that are prone to staining your teeth: Certain foods that can stain your teeth should be reduced and if you must eat them, be sure that you must brush your teeth after.
  • Use teeth whitening products: There are so many whitening products like creams, gels, strips that can restore the white color of your teeth. These products can easily be gotten in stores near you, they do not also need much training to use them.
  • Go for professional teeth whitening treatments: There are some stains that cannot be cleaned with whitening products so you will have to consider going for professional cleaning. 
  • Consider dental treatment: In cases where the stains are too deep to be cleaned, you can go for dental treatments like veneers to cover your enamel and give you white teeth.

Cavity does not have home remedies, you can only prevent the cavity from further developing. If you notice cavity with white color, you can improve your oral hygiene and avoid eating sugary and acidic foods. These will help the cavity to stop breaking down your enamel. But if the cavity has developed larger holes and have black or brown color, you will see a dentist for some treatments like:

  • Tooth filling: The dentist will remove the damaged part of the tooth and fill the holes with a special tooth-colored resin. These tooth fillings will stop the damage and restore your tooth.
  • Crowns: Crowns are used when your tooth structure has become damaged. The dentist will remove the decayed part and cover the tooth with a crown.
  • Root canal: Cavities can damage the nerves and tissues in a tooth if they are left for a long time without treatment. The only option is to undergo a root canal procedure. 


Prevention is better than looking for treatment. There are some ways you can prevent your teeth from being stained by foods.

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day and even after eating certain foods will prevent stains and discoloration.
  • Rinse your mouth after eating or drinking any foods. This will not only prevent stains but also stop bacteria from growing on your teeth.
  • Use antibacterial mouthwash to rinse your mouth after eating in case you cannot brush your teeth.
  • Do not forget to floss in-between your teeth to remove food particles that may be stuck. 
  • Use teeth whitening products once in a while to remove some stains you may not notice.
  • Reduce or quit smoking to avoid discoloring your teeth.

Preventing cavity is one way to preventing tooth damage and other dental issues. You may pay lots of money to treat cavity so it is important that you stop then from developing. Some of the ways are:

  • Brushing your teeth. Keeping the teeth clean is the best way to prevent any dental issue including cavity. Brush at least twice a day and floss as well. This will prevent the bacteria in the mouth from seeing any leftover to feast on.
  • Dental cleaning at least once every 6 months will help to remove debris and harmful bacteria from your mouth. 
  • Rinse your mouth with water or antibacterial mouthwash when you cannot brush after eating.
  • Consider going for sealant if you always have tooth issues. These sealants will keep your teeth stronger and prevent decay. 
  • Reduce your intake of sugary and acidic foods and drinks. 
  • Use fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth, it will help your enamel to become stronger.


The only similarity between cavity and stain is that both will make your teeth to have discolored. This can make you embarrassed to smile or show your teeth when people are around you. 


There is no much similarity between both dental issue but they have lots of difference. Their symptoms, causes, method of treatment and prevention are different. If you notice all your teeth becoming discolored, it may be caused by stains. But if you notice pain, sensitivity and discoloration on one tooth, then you may be having cavities. See your dentist when you notice cavity in your teeth for treatment to avoid further damage.

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