Common Risk Factors And Causes Of Cavities

Cavities begin as tiny holes, but grow larger over time, resulting in permanent tooth damage. A cavity may affect the enamel or hard outer coating of the tooth and the inner dentin layer, eventually allowing bacteria to reach the tooth's soft pulp. From there, the tooth can become infected, and the infection may spread, potentially leading to serious and life-threatening complications. Untreated cavities can also result in tooth loss and contribute to gum disease. Numerous factors can affect if teeth will develop cavities or not, but they all come down to bacteria being allowed to grow and attack the teeth. Start reading to find out how this can happen now.

Poor Dental Hygiene

Practicing good oral hygiene is one of the best things individuals can do to prevent cavities. Even wholesome food can feed the bacteria that develop a biofilm on teeth and erode tooth enamel. Poor dental hygiene contributes to cavities by leaving food particles in the mouth longer, which increases the bacteria. It also prevents bacteria from being washed away and acid from being neutralized.

Good dental hygiene includes brushing twice a day, especially before bed. Everyone should take their time while brushing and move the brush in slow, circular motions to dislodge biofilm. Flossing is just as vital as brushing and should be done at least once a day to help remove biofilm at the gumline, and individuals can also add mouthwash to their oral hygiene regimen. Mouthwash works to reduce acid in the mouth, remineralize teeth, and clean hard-to-brush areas.

Dry Mouth

Saliva serves several vital roles in the mouth. Saliva moistens food to make it easy to swallow and contains an enzyme that breaks down some starches to improve digestion. Saliva also helps reduce bacteria in the mouth, and neutralize acids in food and acids produced by bacteria, while also washing bacteria out of the mouth. It can even help remineralize tooth enamel. Dry mouth removes an individual's natural defense against cavities and allows biofilm and bacteria to quickly build up along the gum line, which is why common consequences of dry mouth or xerostomia include bad breath, gum disease, and cavities. Xerostomia can be caused by many issues such as anxiety, diabetes, and certain medications like decongestants, blood pressure medication, and antidepressants. If individuals suffer from xerostomia, reduce the risk of cavities by using sugar-free gum, drinking plenty of water, and discussing potential medication changes with a doctor.


Plaque or dental biofilm is an accumulation of bacteria on teeth. This sticky film on teeth can contain millions of bacteria that can directly cause gum disease and tooth decay. Dental biofilm can be difficult to see because it's colorless although heavy deposits may be visible and look like a thick white deposit or food on the teeth. Everyone develops a biofilm because bacteria are always growing and forming in the mouth. Bacteria use saliva, starches, and sugar to multiply.

When this biofilm isn't entirely removed by brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar, which makes it harder to floss and brush effectively at the gum line. Eventually, the gums can become swollen, red, and bleed when you brush, which is often gingivitis or early gum disease. The biofilm also causes cavities when the acids in the film attach teeth when individuals eat, which eventually wears down the tooth enamel. Plaque is the leading cause of cavities and gum disease, but it can be prevented. Brushing and flossing regularly helps dislodge the biofilm from the surface of the teeth. Patients can also limit starchy, sugary foods and schedule regular dental cleanings.

Medical Conditions

Many medical conditions are linked with an increased risk of cavities, and one of the most common is acid reflux. Even with good oral hygiene, acid reflux can cause damage to the teeth because the reflux of acid into the esophagus eventually reaches the mouth. When stomach acids regularly wash over the teeth, it leads to enamel loss. Approximately one out of four patients with acid reflux also have tooth erosion. Autoimmune diseases like Sjogren's syndrome, which attacks the glands that produce tears and saliva, can also impact dental health. Dry mouth, which diabetes can cause, allows bacteria to grow out of control and attack the teeth. Even celiac disease, which damages the small intestine, can cause cavities. Along with gastrointestinal symptoms, celiac disease is responsible for tooth discoloration and defects in the enamel, which makes it easy for bacteria to attack the teeth and cause cavities.

Certain Foods And Drinks

Certain foods and drinks contribute to cavities more than others. Tooth decay is the result of acid-producing bacteria in the mouth that feed on carbohydrates, including those in sugar and starch. Starchy and sugary foods and drinks are the worst for dental health because they actually feed the biofilm and bacteria that attack the teeth. Acidic foods, especially foods and drinks with a high amount of citrus, also contribute to cavities by eroding enamel and making teeth more susceptible to decay.

Along with the sugar that feeds the bacteria, the sticky substance also stays on teeth for longer than other foods and increases the damage. As a general rule, the longer the food clings to teeth, the more opportunity it has to feed bacteria. Other foods like potato chips can also contribute to cavities because they are very starchy and get stuck in the teeth.

Location Of Tooth

The location of the tooth can increase an individual's risk of developing a cavity. Certain teeth are more likely to experience decay than others. The majority of individuals who develop cavities find they form in the back teeth, otherwise known as the premolars and molars. This is partially because of the shapes of these teeth. Unlike the front teeth, which are mostly flat, the molars and premolars have complicated surfaces with a lot of grooves and pits. They also tend to be larger than the front teeth and have more volume in which a cavity can form. In addition, these teeth have multiple roots rather than just a single root. It's more difficult to keep them clean than the smoother front teeth. This isn't helped by the fact they're harder to reach with a toothbrush. Switching to an electric toothbrush can sometimes help get debris out of crevices a manual brush has trouble reaching.

Not Enough Fluoride

One thing that can increase an individual's chances of developing a cavity is if they aren't getting enough fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally, and it helps prevent cavities from forming in the mouth. In fact, when tooth decay is in its earliest stages, fluoride can even help reverse the breakdown of enamel and save teeth from suffering a cavity. Fluoride has been artificially added to many public water supplies since it has such a positive impact on dental health. Individuals can contact their local government to find out whether their water supply already has fluoride in it. In addition, fluoride is a common ingredient found in mouthwash, toothpaste, and other mouth rinses. Many kinds of toothpaste for children are free of fluoride, and children shouldn't consume too much fluoride or it could be bad for them. Bottled water doesn't typically contain fluoride. There aren't very many potential health drawbacks to consuming fluoride, and adding it to dental care might save patients from a cavity.


Ongoing heartburn can cause serious problems with teeth. This condition, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease, causes stomach acid to flow into the mouth. This is medically referred to as reflux. The acidic content isn't supposed to enter the throat and mouth, and it quickly begins to wear down tooth enamel, causing serious tooth damage. Patients with heartburn are more likely to have serious tooth decay than those without heartburn. When the enamel is worn down by acid, the dentin found underneath can be attacked by bacteria. If bacteria eat away the dentin, they'll create a cavity. Even bigger problems might be created if the bacteria fester inside the cavity and create an abscess. If individuals go to the dentist, and their dentist discovers they have unusual enamel loss based on their lifestyle, they may recommend that they talk to a doctor to see if gastroesophageal reflux disease is the cause. There are treatments for this condition that can help prevent further tooth and mouth damage.

Worn-Out Dental Devices Or Fillings

When individuals have worn-out dental devices or fillings, they have a higher likelihood of experiencing tooth damage and new cavities. Even the strongest fillings and dental devices have the potential to weaken and wear down over time. Some fillings might break down in components so they don't cover the whole tooth anymore, or they might develop roughened edges that can cause further tooth damage. When there's damage to fillings, plaque can build up more easily on and around them. It's difficult to remove the plaque with the filling in the way, and there may be plaque hiding below the filling's surface that even an electric toothbrush can't reach. For patients who have dentures or braces, these devices may stop fitting as well with time. When this occurs, decay starts below the surface of the dental device. This is equally hard to get rid of with normal brushing. It's important for patients to talk to their dentist and make sure they're getting dental devices adjusted when they stop feeling like they fit correctly.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can wreak havoc on every single part of the body, and the teeth are no exception. Individuals with binge eating disorders may consume large amounts of sugar that get stuck in their teeth, which can influence the buildup of plaque. For patients with anorexia and bulimia, the results can be even more serious. When individuals purge with bulimia, they might vomit to bring food back up. Repeated vomiting causes tooth erosion and decay the same way gastroesophageal reflux disease does. Stomach acid washes repeatedly over teeth, causing the enamel to dissolve. Anorexia can also have a significant impact on tooth erosion if it presents with purging behaviors. In addition, eating disorders may interfere with an individual's ability to keep up good dental habits. Some patients with eating disorders get anxious about using toothpaste or mouthwash because of the potential of accidentally ingesting calories. On top of this, malnutrition and metabolic disturbances can interfere with the body's ability to produce saliva, which is vital for breaking down plaque.