Although the rate of tooth decay has decreased for most Americans over the last 40 years, tooth decay remains the most common chronic disease in both children and adults. Nationally, 92% of adults 20 to 64 have had cavities in their permanent teeth. Locally, 64% of Arizona third-graders have had a cavity.
While tooth decay is preventable, many oral health experts believe that the health of your teeth depends on a combination of genetics and your dental hygiene habits.
Born this way?
Certain genetic factors may be linked to higher rates of tooth decay, which might explain why some people who are diligent about their oral health are still prone to cavities. Researchers believe the following genetic variations may influence how susceptible you are to cavities:
- Enamel – Genes determine the strength of tooth enamel, the strong, calcium-rich outer coating of your teeth. Most cavities start as a hole in tooth enamel, so people with softer enamel may be more likely to get cavities.
- Immune System – Your body contains thousands of species of microorganisms, which dictate your body’s immune response. If your immune system is a PTO-accrual superstar, you’re likely skilled at fighting all sicknesses—including gum disease.
- Saliva – Saliva can contain gene variants that play a key role in fighting bacteria and your specific spit can help (or hurt) the amount of cavity-causing bacteria found in your mouth, according to a 2010 study.
- Shape – Teeth, just like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Those cursed with crowded chompers may experience difficulty flossing, making it easy for plaque to stay put. Teeth with more grooves also provide ample hiding spots for bacteria.
Are bad behaviors to blame?
Cavities are nearly 100% preventable. Hitting the genetic jackpot will only get you so far if you’re guilty of some not-so-healthy habits. Smoking and sugar are obvious oral health no-no’s, but what about the lesser-known nuances? Here are some not-so-obvious behaviors that can contribute to cavities:
- Snoring – If you snort while you snooze, you may be at a higher risk for tooth decay. That’s because the more you snore, the less saliva you produce. A dry mouth is an ideal environment for bacteria to grow, which could eventually lead to cavities.
- Constant Snacking – It takes just 20 seconds for the bacteria in your mouth to convert a sugary snack to cavity-causing acid. Sipping and grazing throughout the day continuously reintroduces sugar to your smile and creates more opportunities for bacteria to feed. This means that sipping a can of soda all day is actually more harmful to teeth than gulping a gallon of soda to wash down lunch (although neither are a good idea).
- Appointment Skippers and Procrastinators – Skipping just 2 years of dental visits significantly increases your risk for tooth decay. No matter how rigorous your regimen, brushing and flossing doesn’t eradicate all buildup. Over time, you’ll need the help of a dental hygienist to scrape off stubborn tartar. It’s also important to note that dental issues can persist even if your mouth feels fine. Oftentimes you won’t exhibit any symptoms until a dental issue becomes more severe. Dentists and hygienists are an important ally in preventing tooth decay and can detect oral health issues before they progress.
Looking for more information on protecting your mouth from dental caries? Check out our other articles about cavity prevention.