12 Cavity Risk Factors (How to Reverse Cavities)
Matt Hannan, DDS
Updated: January 14, 2024
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?
There are many cavity risk factors, but you can heal cavities too!Recommended Reading: Cavities | The Ultimate Guide
What Are Cavity 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.
Related: Learn more about Cavities
Let’s look at tooth decay’s most common risk factors and the best treatment to reverse cavities.
12 Tooth Decay Risk Factors
- Tooth Location: Back teeth, harder to clean, with grooves where decay starts. Sealants can prevent bacteria formation in these areas.
- Poor Oral Hygiene: Inadequate brushing and flossing lead to plaque, the first stage of decay. If not removed, plaque becomes calculus, which only dental professionals can remove.
- Dry Mouth: An environment conducive to cavities, often due to medications or low saliva flow. Saliva washes away food and fights bacteria.
- Poor Nutrition: High-sugar diets feed cavity-causing bacteria. Frequent sugar intake and lack of water increase decay risk.
- Poor-Fitting Restorations: Gaps in crowns and fillings create spaces for bacteria, increasing decay risk.
- Infrequent Dental Visits: Regular visits help spot early decay signs and remove plaque and calculus.
- Genetics: Some people are more prone to cavities due to weaker enamel or a tendency to harbor harmful bacteria.
- Poor Immune System: A weakened immune system can’t effectively fight oral bacteria, increasing infection risk.
- Lack of Fluoride: Inadequate fluoride makes teeth more susceptible to cavities. Fluoride repairs weakened enamel.
- Age: Aging teeth with worn enamel are more vulnerable to bacteria and decay.
- Medications: Many medications cause dry mouth, creating a favorable environment for bacteria. Some medications change mouth pH, promoting bacteria growth.
- Sleep Apnea: CPAP machines for sleep apnea can lead to dry mouth, increasing cavity risk.
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)
- Prescription Fluoride Toothpaste: Dentists can prescribe 1.1% sodium fluoride toothpaste for nightly use. Brush with a pea-sized amount, spit without rinsing to allow fluoride to work on remineralization.
- Topical Fluoride Varnish: A 5% fluoride varnish, applied at the dentist’s, adheres to areas of decay. No eating or drinking for 30 minutes post-application for effective fluoride action.
- Over-the-Counter Toothpaste: Look for toothpaste with sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride, or hydroxyapatite for remineralization. Choose one with the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
- Oral Health Improvement: Includes regular dental visits, consistent brushing, nightly flossing, and using antibacterial mouthwash to combat cavity-causing bacteria.
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.
Need a second opinion? We can help! Learn more. 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)
About the Author
Dr. Matthew Hannan, also known as “Dr. Advocate,” is a board-certified dentist on a mission to provide accurate dental patient education. He attended Baylor University before completing dental school at UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry. He now lives in Arizona with his beautiful wife and 4 kids. Dr. Hannan believes everyone should access easy-to-read dental resources with relevant, up-to-date dental research and insight to improve their oral health.
Connect with Dr. Hannan!
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