Exactly What Causes Cavities – and Why You Might Keep Getting Them

Getty Images / Luis Alvarez

Cavities are a pain. They require a trip to the dentist’s office, an hour or two of numbness afterward, and if left untreated, they can lead to a whole bevy of serious dental concerns. So if you’ve found yourself wondering why you keep getting cavities, you probably want to get to the bottom of the problem.

Before we dive into the common culprits (and surprisingly, it might not have anything to do with your flossing habits), it’s important to understand how a cavity is formed.

“Cavities are formed by bacteria on the teeth that produce acids used in the breakdown of food particles, and that acid ultimately starts to break down the tooth,” Dr. Rhonda Kalasho, DDS, of Glo Modern Dentistry, says.

As a rule, flossing and brushing your teeth as directed by your dentist, plus going to your regular cleanings, help to minimize the growth of this cavity-causing bacteria.

However, there are a few other factors that might be behind your regular cavities.

For starters, you can be genetically prone to them! Dr. Kalasho says that this could include those that have thin enamel or reduced salivary flow, for example.

“Thousands of genes are directly related to the cell differentiation of enamel, and other structures of a tooth. There are several known and studied genetic abnormalities that directly affect the enamel, such as amelogenesis imperfecta, or hypoplasia of enamel. Both lead to an issue with proper development of enamel, thus leading the tooth prone to decay, and tooth loss,” Dr. Kalasho explains.

Saliva, on the other hand, can protect against cavities because it makes it less likely for bacteria to adhere to the teeth.

“Patients with reduced salivary flow, such as patients with the autoimmune disease known as Sjogren’s, or those with medicine-induced dry mouth, are more prone to having cavities.”

Dry mouth can also be caused by certain medications and stress. “Remember to keep your mouth well hydrated by drinking clear, alkaline, sugar-free liquids throughout the day, and perhaps even sucking on sugar-free lozenges to help keep the mouth hydrated,” Dr. Kalasho suggests.

Because the bacteria on your teeth is needed to break down carbohydrates and starches, Dr. Kalasho says limiting your dietary intake of carbs might also be helpful in reducing cavities – of course, on top of brushing and flossing regularly, and visiting your dentist for check-ups.

If you have any concerns about your teeth, related to cavities or not, it’s important to speak to your dentist for personalized advice.

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