Everyone who has teeth is at risk of getting cavities, but the following factors can increase risk:
- Tooth location. Decay most often occurs in your back teeth (molars and premolars). These teeth have lots of grooves, pits and crannies, and multiple roots that can collect food particles. As a result, they are harder to keep clean than your smoother, easy-to-reach front teeth.
- Bedtime infant feeding. When babies are given bedtime bottles filled with milk, formula, juice or other sugar-containing liquids, these beverages remain on their teeth for hours while they sleep, feeding decay-causing bacteria. This damage is often called baby bottle tooth decay. Similar damage can occur when toddlers wander around drinking from a sippy cup filled with these beverages.
- Younger or older age. In the United States, cavities are common in very young children and teenagers. Older adults also are at higher risk. Over time, teeth can wear down and gums may recede, making teeth more vulnerable to root decay. Older adults also may use many medications for their medical conditions that reduce saliva flow, increasing the risk of tooth decay.
- Dry mouth. Dry mouth is caused by a lack of saliva, which helps prevent tooth decay by washing away food and plaque from your teeth. Substances found in saliva also help counter the acid produced by bacteria. Certain medications, some medical conditions, radiation to your head or neck, or certain chemotherapy drugs can increase your risk of cavities by reducing saliva production.
- Worn fillings or ill-fitting dental appliances. Over the years, dental fillings can weaken, begin to break down or develop rough edges. This allows plaque to build up more easily and makes it harder to remove. Dental appliances like partial dentures can stop fitting well, allowing decay to begin underneath them.
- Heartburn. Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause stomach acid to flow into your mouth (reflux), wearing away the enamel and dentin of your teeth and causing significant tooth damage, creating tooth decay. Your dentist may recommend that you consult your physician to see if gastric reflux is the medical problem for you and she/he will prescribe an appropriate treatment.
- Eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia can lead to significant tooth erosion and cavities. Repeated vomiting (purging) cause acid from your stomach washes over the teeth and begins dissolving the enamel. Eating disorders also can interfere with saliva production.
Cavities and tooth decay are so common that you may not take them seriously. And you may think that it doesn’t matter if children get cavities in their baby teeth. However, cavities and tooth decay can have serious and lasting complications, even for children who don’t have their permanent teeth yet.
Complications of cavities may include:
- Pain that interferes with your daily living
- Tooth abscess: swelling or pus around a tooth
- Damage or broken teeth lead to chewing problems
- Positioning shifts of teeth after tooth loss which may affect your appearance, as well as your confidence and self-esteem
- In rare cases, a tooth abscess- a pocket of pus that’s caused by bacterial infection- which can lead to more serious or even life-threatening infections
Most of people want a beautiful pearly white smile, a fresh smelling breath. It is such a good feeling when you feel that squeaky clean around your teeth and tongues. All of these are important indicators of your oral health. They are also the first things people notice when they first meet you. However, keeping your mouth, teeth and gums cleaned all the time can be challenging.
The best way to keep your teeth, gums and mouth clean and healthy is by practicing good daily oral hygiene which includes the following:
- Brush and Floss: you should brush at least 2 times and floss at least 1 time daily. Brushing and flossing will help removing plaque (a bacteria biofilm) from adhering firmly to the surfaces of your teeth. The bacteria in plaque turn sugars in food into acid. The acid can attack and slowly erode tooth enamel and cause tooth decay. Some bacteria can also cause gingivitis and gum disease (periodontal disease). Ultimately, it can cause you to lose your teeth if left untreated.
- Use fluoride toothpaste: The fluoride in toothpaste strengthens the tooth enamel. Fluoride is an essential element for children’s teeth development. It helps prevent decay in both kids and adults. In the United States, most cities have the municipal water fluoridated; you still should use fluoride toothpastes when brushing your teeth. If more fluoride is needed, the dentist can apply it directly on your teeth when you have your checkup and cleaning at the dental office.
- Limit daily sugary snacks: Sugary snacks supply fuel for decay-causing bacteria that live in plaque or biofilm around your teeth.
- Quit tobacco: either smoke or smokeless tobacco use will greatly increase your risk of oral cancer, gum disease and tooth decay.
- Perform a self-exam of your mouth regularly: by examining your own mouth, you will quickly notice any changes, such as visible holes or pits in your teeth, chipped teeth, red, swollen and bleeding gums, sensitivity to temperature (hot/cold) or sweets, unusual sores, pain when you bite down etc. If you find any concerns, please let us know. Early treatment provides the best opportunity to resolve many problems effectively and economically.