If you’re like the average person, you’ve probably had a cavity — or seven. 91 percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 64 have had a cavity, and adults between 20 and 39 years old average seven decayed, missing, or filled teeth. So what’s causing our cavities, and how do we cut down on our dentist visits? Here’s what you need to know.
What causes cavities?
Simply put, bacteria, dessert, and bad brushing habits. When certain bacteria in your mouth mingle with refined sugar and fermentable carbohydrates, acid is produced, which wears away at the calcium and phosphate that protect your tooth enamel. Weakened enamel and exposed dentin (a calcified tissue that helps make up teeth) allow for the formation of cavities. If you’ve got receding gums, you’re also at risk of getting cavities on teeth that are exposed. And same goes for people with a dry mouth, since they have less acid-neutralizing saliva in their mouths keeping cavities at bay.
You can “catch” cavities
If you’re swapping spit, there’s a chance you can spread bacteria that cause cavities — and that goes for both makeout sessions and sharing food and utensils alike. Couples and mothers and their babies are particularly at risk.
You’re not totally at fault
People who don’t get cavities aren’t necessarily better at turning down sweets. They just may not have picked up the bacteria that cause cavities. You can also blame your parents: up to 60 percent of the risk for tooth decay could be due to genetics, since you can inherit enamel problems and deep tooth crevices. Age plays a role, too, thanks to gum recession that comes with aging and prescription medications that can cause dry mouth.
There’s plenty you can do about it
The good news? You’re not doomed to a life of cavities, even if you’ve got some risk factors working against you. Start with your bushing, flossing, and rinsing habits. You should be brushing at least twice a day (ideally after every meal) for at least two minutes and flossing and using mouthwash every day. Cutting down on sugary and acidic foods will also help keep your teeth cavity-free — no sugar means there’s nothing for those bacteria to feed on. Finally, address issues like dry mouth and teeth grinding. Your dentist can work with you on both before they become a problem that requires drilling to fix.
Some cavities even go away on their own
No, we’re not suggesting you swear off the dentist when you’re in pain. But some cavities, particularly the ones that form on the flat exterior (not the chewing surface), can be put in reverse once they start forming. That means going to town on fluoride toothpastes, gels, or varnishes and keeping up with your flossing — since your enamel is thickest on this part of the tooth, you’ll have more time to fix the issue.
But don’t put off getting help
Untreated cavities can lead to pain and infections — and sometimes a root canal or tooth extraction. Bad oral health has also been linked to serious health issues like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. When in doubt, get it checked out.