The Top 5 Things That Cause Cavities

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Bacteria Growth in Tooth

Our entire lives,we’ve been told that cavities are bad and that we need to brush and floss in order to prevent them from occurring. We’ve also been told that sugar is bad for our teeth and should be limited if we want to keep our teeth healthy. However, do we actually know why we do these things? Often times, dental routines are instilled in us at a young age so we never question the why. 

Simply stated, the “why” is to address the causes of cavities. A large part of preventative care is understanding what causes cavities so that the “why” of preventative care becomes evident. To help and your family understand why dental care is so important, here are five things that cause cavities: 

Teeth with bacteria magnified

Bacteria

Both gum disease and tooth decay are caused by bacteria. Our mouths naturally contain bacteria called streptococcus mutans. Although bacteria is naturally-occuring, it can still cause problems if there is no population control for the number of bacteria in our mouths. Each bacterium feeds on food scraps and then emits an acidic waste product. When large amounts of bacteria reside in the same area, this results in multiple acid attacks on the teeth. This acid will eventually erode the tooth enamel and cause a dental cavity. 

Sugars

Sugars are bacteria’s most preferred food choice and the bacteria in your mouth feed predominantly on sugars from food and beverages. In as little as 15 minutes after eating, bacteria can consume, digest, and excrete the sugars from your meal. Once again, if this happens often in a particular area, the result is eroded enamel that can lead to a cavity. 

Plaque

Plaque serves as an ideal habitat for bacteria to live, eat, and thrive. It is colorless film that is found on the surface of your enamel, not to be confused with tartar, which is much harder. As a general rule, the more plaque your teeth have, the higher your risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease.

Parafunction

Parafunction is the term used to describe any abnormal function that the teeth are not intended for. One popular parafunction that has been identified as a cause of cavity is teeth grinding and clenching. This is because both clenching and grinding your teeth can cause the enamel to become worn, making it easier for bacteria to erode. 

Diabetic diet and blood sugar monitor

Certain Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions may pose a threat to your overall and oral health. For example, acid reflux disorder may prematurely wear down your enamel or diabetes can increase the risk of gum disease. Additionally, certain medicals used to treat medical conditions can also have harmful dental side effects. One example of this is dry mouth. Saliva is essential for keeping you healthy by managing the amount of bacteria in your mouth. 

Overall, bacteria, sugar, plaque, grinding and clenching and certain medical conditions have been found to lead to dental problems like gum disease and tooth decay. In understanding the top five things that cause cavities, we hope to inspire better dental habits that lead to fewer cavities. If you are interested in learning more about how to keep your teeth healthy, see our article on “The Top 5 Ways to Prevent Cavities”. 

Dr. Stephen Malone received his Doctorate of Dental Medicine Degree from the University of Louisville in 1994 and has practiced dentistry in Knoxville for over 20 years. He believes in the value of continuing dental education and has pursued hands-on and mentored advanced dental education every year since earning his doctorate. He participates in multiple dental study clubs and professional organizations, where he has taken a leadership role.

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