12 Cavity Risk Factors (Best Treatment)
Author: Matt Hannan, DDS
Updated: July 6, 2023
Cavities are one of the greatest unmet health treatment needs and, if left untreated, can lead to problems eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Did you know that some people are more prone to develop cavities than others?Recommended Reading: Cavities | The Ultimate Guide
What are risk factors?
Risk factors are variables that are associated with an increased risk of disease. For example, all teeth are created equal. However, some individuals possess risk factors that lead to cavities, such as dry mouth, low salivary flow, high-frequency carbohydrate intake, etc. Understanding these risk factors can help you guard against future cavities. According to a recent CDC study, almost half (45%) of kids ages 2-19 have tooth decay.
Let’s look at tooth decay’s most common risk factors and the best treatment to reverse cavities.Related: Learn more about Cavities
12 tooth decay risk factors
- Tooth location: Back teeth are more difficult to clean and harbor more bacteria. Also, molars and premolars feature grooves and pits where tooth decay begins. Dental sealants are plastic-like coatings that can be placed into the grooves to prevent bacteria formation.
- Poor oral hygiene: Inadequate brushing and flossing lead to more plaque and bacteria in your mouth. Dental plaque is soft, sticky, and the first stage of tooth decay; you should remove it as soon as possible. It will transition into hard and tenacious calculus if plaque is not removed. Unfortunately, the dentist or hygienist can only remove calculus with instruments at the office.
- Dry mouth: Dry mouth is an ideal environment for cavity-causing bacteria and can occur from certain medications or low salivary flow. Saliva counters this process by washing away food particles from your teeth to prevent plaque formation. Also, saliva contains bacteria-fighting enzymes to fight off formation.
- Poor nutrition: Diets high in sugar bathe the teeth providing food for cavity-causing bacteria. Sugar consumed more frequently increases the risk of tooth decay as more “food” is available for bacteria to consume. Also, lack of water consumption prevents the removal and clearing of food particles. Sipping on water during the day or chewing sugar-free gum will stimulate saliva production and help remove food particles.
- Poor-fitting restorations: Crowns and fillings with gaps provide a safe space for bacteria to congregate. These spaces are hard-to-reach and prevent bacteria removal leading to an increased risk of tooth decay. Also, restorations expand and contract with temperature changes causing gaps to form.
- Infrequent dental visits: Frequent dental visits and cleanings allow the clinician to spot early signs of tooth decay. However, regular cleanings help remove stubborn plaque and calculus that harbor bacteria. Also, routine visits will enable the dentist and hygienist to spot early signs of tooth decay that the tooth can remineralize.
- Genetics: Some individuals are predisposed (more likely) to cavities because their enamel is weak, or they are more prone to harbor cavity-causing bacteria. Also, specific medical issues decrease the immune response and prevent the body from fighting off harmful bacteria.
- Poor immune system: The immune system works to fight off bacteria and harmful agents attacking the body. If this response is suppressed, disease and infection will progress. In addition, our immune systems are impacted by medical issues, ailments, and certain medications.
- Lack of fluoride: Water fluoridation is one of the most significant oral health advancements. Fluoride is also available in toothpaste, mouthwash, and other dental products to repair weakened enamel surfaces. It binds to available calcium and phosphorus minerals on the tooth surface to repair the damage. However, lack of adequate fluoride leaves the tooth surface vulnerable to cavities.
- Age: Similar to organs, teeth become weak and vulnerable to bacteria as we age. The enamel surface becomes worn and exposes the softer dentin layer. Bacteria progress at a faster rate through this surface. Also, gaps around old fillings become prevalent and allow cavities to advance.
- Medications: A common side effect of many medications is dry mouth which breeds a prime environment for bacteria. Oral steroids and bronchodilators can also cultivate and encourage bacteria growth because it alters the pH in the mouth. Bacteria prefer acidic environments to live.
- Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is commonly managed with a CPAP machine that provides positive oxygen pressure during sleep. This machine may lead to dry mouth, allowing bacteria to increase and form cavities.
Recommended Reading: Overcoming Obstacles at the Dentist
Can you reverse cavities?
Yes, cavities that are located in the enamel can be reversed. This process is called remineralization and can only be accomplished when the cavity is superficial. If the cavity progresses to the dentin layer, the cavity cannot be repaired because there’s an irreversible hole in the tooth.
How to reverse cavities?
Nightly fluoride trays (best treatment): Nightly fluoride trays are fabricated at the dentist and require an upper and lower impression of your teeth. Your dentist will also prescribe 1.1% sodium fluoride anti-cavity gel to apply inside the trays.
When you wear them each night, fluoride will directly contact your teeth to remineralize cavities, making them the best treatment to reverse cavities.
Recommended Reading: 10 Simple Steps to Prevent Cavities (Dentist’s Perspective)
Other treatments that reverse tooth decay include:
Prescription fluoride toothpaste – your dentist can also prescribe 1.1% sodium fluoride anti-cavity toothpaste that you should use nightly. Use a pea-sized amount; after thoroughly brushing, spit it out and don’t rinse. Rinsing your mouth will inadvertently remove the fluoride minerals and prevent tooth remineralization.
Topical fluoride varnish – 5% fluoride varnish is only available at your dentist and can be directly applied to localized areas of decay. The sticky varnish is gently painted on your teeth and requires no eating or drinking for at least 30 minutes. The direct application provides a protective barrier for fluoride to take effect.
Over-the-counter toothpaste – the most effective remineralizing toothpaste contains sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride, or calcium phosphate (hydroxyapatite). These ingredients bond to weakened enamel, repairing missing tooth structures and preventing future decay. Look for one with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance.
Oral health improvement – oral health improvement consists of regular dental visits, frequent brushing, and nightly flossing. Antibacterial mouthwash also helps remove food particles while killing cavity-causing bacteria. However, improving oral health may require mastering new dental.
Check out the blog article below to learn more about how these treatments remineralize (reverse) tooth decay.
Recommended Reading: Can You Reverse a Cavity? (5 Simple Steps)
My Experience & Expertise
Tooth decay risk factors play a significant role during the life cycle of a tooth. Teeth are vital to our health as they help break down food so our body can take up proper vitamins and nutrients in the food. Also, our confidence and self-image are maintained with healthy teeth. Therefore, understanding these risk factors may prevent cavity formation and bacteria advancement.
Knowledge is power when cultivating healthy dental habits. The more informed you are, the better positioned you’ll be to prevent avoidable and potentially costly dental procedures for you and your family. Watch for future blog posts, where we’ll continue sharing important information, product reviews and practical advice!
- Fleming E, Afful J. Prevalence of total and untreated dental caries among youth: United States, 2015–2016. NCHS Data Brief, no 307. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.
- American Dental Association (ADA)