Is It a Cavity or Sensitive Teeth?

Although a cavity can lead to tooth sensitivity, their causes and treatments are different. Use this chart to learn about the differences—and remember to see your dentist for an official diagnosis.

What’s That Pain?

Cavity vs Tooth Sensitivity

Nerves in teeth

What It Is

Cavity icon

What Is a Cavity?

A painful hole in the tooth caused by tooth decay.

Example of tooth nerve pain

What Is Tooth Sensitivity?

Pain caused when stimuli, such as ice cream, reach the nerves in teeth.

What It Feels Like

Pinpointing tooth pain icon

Cavity Pain

A dull ache, sometimes triggered by eating or biting down.

Experiencing tooth sensitivity icon

Tooth Sensitivity Pain

A short, sharp shock of pain often caused by cold or hot foods.

How It Happens

Tooth that is dirty from plaque

Cavity Causes

Sugars and starches create plaque on teeth. The bacteria in plaque break down enamel, leading to decay.

Inflammed nerves in teeth

Tooth Sensitivity Causes

When enamel wears down or your gums recede, it exposes the underlying layer where the nerves live. Certain triggers, like ice water, aggravate these nerves, causing sensitivity pain.

How to Treat It

Woman opening her mouth for the dentist

Cavity Treatment

If you get a cavity, schedule an appointment with your dentist to have it filled.

Sensodyne Repair and Protect toothpaste icon

Sensitive Teeth Treatment

Sensitivity can be treated with proper at-home care. Brush twice every day with a desensitizing toothpaste like Sensodyne to get relief.*

*With twice daily brushing