Tooth decay is a serious condition that can affect anyone. But for the folks who always seem to be dealing with decay issues, they probably wonder why my teeth get cavities so easily?
Cavities are tiny openings or holes that develop in teeth. The damage to a tooth caused by a cavity is permanent and needs to be repaired by a dentist. Cavities are most common in children, teenagers, and seniors.
Cavity formation occurs in three steps.
Plaque is the clear, sticky film that coats teeth. It forms from bacteria that feed on sugar and starches that collect on teeth. If plaque isn’t removed, it stays on the teeth and hardens into tartar. Only a dental professional can remove tartar.
The acids that collect in the plaque then attack tooth enamel. Enamel is the hard, protective coating that envelopes a tooth. Once the enamel breaks down, acids attack a tooth’s dentin – the layer directly below the enamel.
Acids continue to damage a tooth when they attack the pulp. This is where the nerves and blood vessels of a tooth are found.
Cavities Can Be Genetic
Just like genetics determine factors such as hair and eye color, some people can also be predisposed to getting cavities. So, what percentage of cavities are genetic?
Approximately 60 percent of tooth decay risk appears to derive from genetics, according to Mary L. Marazita, director of the Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.
These are some of the factors that make cavities genetic.
Ability to Taste
Some people have a stronger ability to taste than others. This means they can distinguish a wider variety of tastes. Those people are less likely to develop tooth decay, possibly because the wider taste palate leads to less consumption of sweets.
Genes are the major entity that determines the strength of tooth enamel. Teeth with strong enamel are more suited to absorb vital minerals such as calcium and fluoride. Those minerals help keep teeth strong and resistant to the plaque and bacteria that cause cavities.
The genetic makeup of some people causes them to crave sugar more so than others. Unfortunately, satisfying that desire by consuming foods and drinks high in sugar makes you more prone to tooth decay issues.
Saliva can be used to prevent tooth decay if it properly metabolizes certain minerals and vitamins. So an individual’s saliva can either aid or inhibit the amount of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.
While everyone has the same types of teeth, they vary in specific shapes and sizes. Some people have crowded tight teeth. That makes flossing difficult. An inability to properly floss makes it harder to prevent plaque buildup on teeth.
Other people have teeth that have more grooves. This provides bacteria with more spots to congregate.
Immune Response to Bacteria
Everyone’s mouth is loaded with bacteria. Some bacteria are more dangerous than others. An immune system that is compromised or doesn’t function as well as it should might not adequately protect teeth from decay-causing bacteria.
When You Can’t Blame Genetics
Great genetics will only take you so far when it comes to cavity prevention. Bad oral habits and lack of proper hygiene will quickly overcome any cavity-prevention edge you inherited from your parents.
Smoking is another habit that increases susceptibility to cavities. This is because smoking diminishes saliva production. Saliva helps clean teeth by washing away food particles that bacteria can capitalize on and begin the decay process.
A diet high in sugars and starches is another main culprit in cavity production. But there are other, lesser-known causes of cavities.
Snoring can decrease tooth health over an extended period. It leads to dry mouth. The saliva reduction is a breeding ground for bacteria to feed and spread.
Regular snacking brings sugars in contact with your teeth. Mouth bacteria need a mere 20 seconds to convert sugar into cavity-producing acids. Try to limit the number of snacks you have throughout the day. Instead, focus on consuming balanced meals. Feeling full from a balanced meal prevents the urge to snack.
Missed Dental Exams
Regular dental exams are one of the best preventative measures to take for cavity prevention. Brushing and flossing are a good start, but they aren’t enough on their own. But a dentist knows what to look for in terms of potential issues that can become bigger problems if left unchecked.
Signs and Symptoms of a Cavity
Cavities might not yield any signs or symptoms in the early stage of development. That will change as the decay continues to progress. Look for these common signs of a cavity:
- Toothache or pain without any obvious cause
- Tooth sensitivity
- Tooth staining – black, brown, or white stains
- Pain when biting
- Visible pits in a tooth
- Pain or sensitivity from eating or drinking hot, cold, or sweet foods
Complications can develop in the mouth if a cavity goes untreated. Those complications can include a tooth abscess, swelling or pus around a tooth, a broken tooth, chewing issues, and the shifting of teeth after a tooth loss.
Types of Cavities
If you suspect you have a cavity, schedule an appointment with a dental office. Your dentist will examine your teeth, looking for any signs or symptoms of decay. Once your dentist determines you do have a cavity, the next step is to identify the kind of cavity. There are three types:
- Smooth surface cavity – This cavity type is located on a tooth’s smooth surface
- Root cavity – This cavity type develops on a tooth’s surface above the roots
- Pit and fissure cavity – This cavity type is found on a tooth’s chewing surface
Cavity Prevention Plan
Cavity and tooth decay prevention starts by developing an oral care regimen that you can maintain. Incorporate some of these tips. Or consult your dentist regarding what’s best for you.
Brushing and Flossing
Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day. Brush after meals if you can, use a toothpaste that contains fluoride, and floss after brushing to remove food particles from those spots that a toothbrush cannot reach.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and replace it every three to four months. Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums. Brush using gentle, short strokes. Don’t brush too hard.
Rinse Your Mouth
Consider rinsing your mouth after you brush and floss. Your dentist might recommend this practice if you are prone to cavities. Use rinse that contains fluoride or a prescription rinse from your dentist.
Drink Tap Water
Often, public water supplies contain fluoride. This is an effortless way to get some fluoride. And, drinking water is healthy for the body too.
Chew gum that contains the ingredient xylitol. Xylitol helps to diminish bacteria growth. Plus, chewing gum increases saliva flow in the mouth.
Change Your Diet
Decrease foods high in sugar and starch from your diet. Foods that are chewy and sticky, like some candies, can get stuck in your teeth. Those foods produce acids that wear away tooth enamel. Snack on fresh fruits and veggies instead.
Sugary drinks are particularly harmful to your teeth. Amy food high in sugar can promote tooth decay. But drinks quickly spread the sugar to every part of your mouth. Sugar is found in more than just sodas and artificially flavored juices. Specialty coffees contain flavored syrups — they are almost like having dessert in a cup.
Your dentist might recommend fluoride treatments if you do not get an adequate amount from drinking water and other sources. This treatment can be performed at your dentist’s office or with at-home fluoride kits.
Adult molars can be protected with sealants if there are preliminary signs of decay. Your dentist will examine the molars first to ensure that the decay has not penetrated the tooth enamel.
Schedule regular checkups with your dentist. You will receive professional teeth cleanings and oral exams. Your dentist can also look for signs of early oral health issues, including cavities.
Find a Dentist Near Me
Consult your dentist to discuss your questions about genetics and cavities. Or, check out The Smile Generation to find a dentist near you for all your oral care needs, including discussing cavity prevention and treatment. You can read patient reviews, peruse staff bios, and schedule an appointment online with a click of your mouse.
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- “Are You Genetically Predisposed to Cavities?” Towncare Dental, February 2015, https://www.towncaredental.com/blog/are-you-genetically-predisposed-to-cavities
- “No Cavities? Thank Your Parents,” The Addison Dentist, May 2015, https://www.theaddisondentist.com/blog/no-cavities-thank-your-parents/
- Frysh, Paul, “Bad teeth? Blame your genes,” CNN, June 2014, https://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/03/health/tooth-decay-causes/index.html?sr=tw070314badteeth2pVODtopPhoto
- “Types of Cavities,” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cavities/multimedia/types-of-cavities/img-20005822
- “Cavities/tooth decay,” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cavities/symptoms-causes/syc-20352892
- “Can You Heal a Cavity at Home?” Colgate, https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/cavities/can-you-heal-cavity-at-home
- “Dental Caries (Cavities),” Colgate, https://www.colgate.com/en-my/oral-health/cavities/dental-caries-cavities