Differentiating between tooth sensitivity and a cavity can be a huge challenge for any parent. This is because these dental issues are strikingly similar. Besides, tooth sensitivity in most cases results from a cavity hence it is difficult to separate the two. Unless you are a kid’s dentist, you will never know for sure if your child has a cavity or a sensitive tooth.

In this post, we discuss the major symptoms, the main differences, as well as how to tell if your child has a cavity or a sensitive tooth. Let’s start with the definitions.


Tooth sensitivity refers to a sharp pain or discomfort that occurs when the nerves in the tooth are exposed to specific stimuli such as excessively hot or cold beverages, acidic foods, sweet foods, cold air or fluctuating temperatures.

A cavity, on the other hand, is simply a permanent tiny hole in the tooth that extends into the pulp, leading to pain and sensitivity. These holes form when the enamel around the tooth decays because of a combination of several factors such as poor oral hygiene, bacteria, and sipping sugary drinks.


If your child complains of temporary pain after drinking hot chocolate or eating ice cream, then it’s more likely teeth sensitivity. This is particularly true if the pain goes away immediately after consuming hot or cold foods.

Another symptom of tooth sensitivity in children is temporary pain when brushing or flossing teeth. If your kid’s teeth are smooth on the edges and correctly shaped, but they still feel pain when consuming hot or cold foods, then that’s nothing more than sensitive teeth.

The symptoms of a cavity include more pronounced and persistent pain without any apparent cause, visible holes in the teeth, rough edges and black stains on the surface of the teeth. In most cases, the pain from a cavity does not go away unless treated.


The number one cause of cavities is poor oral hygiene. If you do not encourage your child to brush or floss their teeth correctly, food particles may get stuck in between and lead to the formation of plaque and bacterial buildup. This will ultimately cause cavities and dental infections.

Tooth sensitivity occurs when the enamel wears out as a result of brushing too hard, using a hard toothbrush, eating acidic foods, drinking sugary beverages, or grinding teeth at night.  

Treatment and Prevention

A visit to a kid’s dentist is the first step to treating sensitive teeth and cavities in children. The dentist will perform a thorough assessment of your child’s teeth before recommending the best treatment options for both conditions.

For sensitive teeth, the dentist may recommend special toothpaste to take care of the condition. You have to ensure that your child brushes their teeth at least twice a day. The only way to treat a cavity is to clean the affected tooth by removing the decayed portion and have the holes filled.

To prevent tooth sensitivity and cavities, proper oral hygiene is always encouraged. Make sure your child brushes and flosses correctly at least twice a day. We also recommend that you avoid giving your child sugary and acidic foods.

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If you are having a hard time establish whether your child has sensitive teeth or a cavity, do not hesitate to contact a children’s dentist today. Looking for an orthodontist in Garden Grove or Orange County? Contact us today for a consultation!