Risk factorsBy Mayo Clinic Staff
Everyone who has teeth is at risk of getting cavities, but the following factors can increase risk:
May 30, 2014
- Tooth location. Decay most often occurs in your back teeth (molars and premolars). These teeth have lots of grooves, pits and crannies that can collect food particles. As a result, they're harder to keep clean than your smoother, easy-to-reach front teeth. Plaque can build and bacteria can thrive between your back teeth, producing the acid that destroys tooth enamel.
- Certain foods and drinks. Foods that cling to your teeth for a long time — such as milk, ice cream, honey, sugar, soda, dried fruit, cake, cookies, hard candy, breath mints, dry cereal, and chips — are more likely to cause decay than foods that are easily washed away by saliva.
- Frequent snacking or sipping. When you steadily snack or sip sodas, you give mouth bacteria more fuel to produce acids that attack your teeth and wear them down. And sipping soda or other acidic drinks throughout the day helps create a continual acid bath over your teeth.
- Bedtime infant feeding. Parents are encouraged not to give babies bedtime bottles filled with milk, formula, juice or other sugar-containing liquids. These beverages will remain on teeth for hours while your baby sleeps, providing food for decay-causing bacteria. This damage is often called baby bottle tooth decay. Letting a toddler who's transitioning from a bottle wander around drinking from a sippy cup can cause similar damage.
- Inadequate brushing. If you don't clean your teeth soon after eating and drinking, plaque forms quickly and the first stages of decay can begin.
- Not getting enough fluoride. Fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral, helps prevent cavities and can even reverse the earliest stages of tooth damage. Because of its benefits for teeth, fluoride is added to many public water supplies. It's also a common ingredient in toothpaste and mouth rinses. Bottled water may not contain fluoride.
- Younger or older age. In the United States, cavities are common in children and teenagers. Older adults also are at higher risk, as more of us keep our teeth as we age. Over time, teeth can wear down and gums may recede, making teeth more vulnerable to root decay. Older adults also may use more medications 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 and can even help repair early tooth decay. 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 dental devices. 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 devices can also stop fitting well, allowing decay to begin underneath them.
- Eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia can lead to significant tooth erosion and cavities. Stomach acid from repeated vomiting (purging) washes over the teeth and begins dissolving the enamel. Eating disorders can also interfere with saliva production.
- Heartburn. Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause stomach acid to flow into your mouth (reflux), wearing away the enamel of your teeth and causing significant tooth damage. Your dentist may recommend that you consult your doctor to see if gastric reflux is the cause of your enamel loss.
- Caries. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec08/ch095/ch095b.html. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Dental caries (tooth decay). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/disease/dental_caries.html. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Fluoridation basics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/basics/index.htm. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Mercury in dental amalgam. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/hg/dentalamalgam.html. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Dental sealants. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/publications/faqs/sealants.htm. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- The tooth decay process: How to reverse it and avoid a cavity. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/OralHealthInformation/ChildrensOralHealth/ToothDecayProcess.htm. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- A healthy mouth for your baby. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/ToothDecay/AHealthyMouthforYourBaby.htm. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Cavities. MouthHealthy. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/c/cavities. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Eating disorders. MouthHealthy. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/e/eating-disorders. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Acid reflux and oral health. Ontario Dental Hygienists' Association. http://www.odha.on.ca/drupal/node/17. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Dry mouth (xerostomia). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/DryMouth/DryMouth.htm. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Preventing cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/doh.htm. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Root canals. MouthHealthy. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/r/root-canals. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Mouthrinses. American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/1319.aspx. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Sheridan PJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 11, 2014.
- Salinas TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 25, 2014.