Hesperian Health Guides

Cavities, Toothaches and Abscesses

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HealthWiki > Where There Is No Dentist > Chapter 1: Your Own Teeth and Gums > Cavities, Toothaches and Abscesses


‘Cavities’ are holes in teeth. Cavities are made by the infection called tooth decay. If you have a black spot on your tooth, it might be a cavity. If that tooth hurts some of the time, such as when you eat, drink, or breathe cold air, it probably has a cavity in it.

You will get cavities in your teeth if you eat sweet food and then do not clean your teeth. If you see a cavity starting in your mouth or feel a tooth hurting you, get help right away. If you do not fill a cavity, it grows bigger and deeper. A dental worker knows how to fill the cavity so you can keep that tooth. Do this before the pain gets worse.

healthy teeth.
teeth with some decay.
a tooth with an infected root.
Each tooth has roots that hold it in the jaw bone. Inside each root is a nerve. When decay touches the nerve, inside the tooth aches, even when you try to sleep. When infection reaches the inside of a root, it is called a tooth abscess.


A tooth with an abscess needs treatment at once, before the infection can go into the bone.
In most cases the tooth must be taken out. If it is not possible to do this right away, you can stop the problem from getting any worse if you follow these steps:

a person whose face is swollen on one side.
A tooth abscess can cause swelling like this.
  1. Wash the inside of your mouth with warm water. This removes any bits of food caught inside the cavity.
  2. Take aspirin or acetominophen for pain.
  3. Reduce the swelling:
    • hold warm water inside your mouth near the bad tooth.
    • Wet a cloth with hot water and hold it against your face.
      Do not use water hot enough to burn yourself!



This page was updated:19 Feb 2018