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CAVITIES: Bad Luck or Bad Behavior?

By Caroline Jacobson on February 18, 2016 in Dental Health


Why are some people more prone to tooth decay? See what the experts say:

When it comes to cavities, is bad luck or bad behavior to blame? Oral health experts agree—it's a little of both. 

Born this way?

Like lefties and redheads, cavities can be a genetic gamble. According to experts, you may be able to blame cavities on genetics. Researchers have found these common cavity-causing components:

• Enamel

Genes are the primary producer for enamel structure. The stronger your enamel surface, the better it's able to absorb key minerals, like fluoride and calcium.

• Immune System

Your body contains thousands of species of microorganisms, which dictate your body's immune response. If your immune system is a superstar, you're likely skilled at fighting all sicknesses—including gum disease.

• Saliva

Saliva can be used to find polymorphisms — gene variants that take many forms. And your specific spit can help (or hurt) the amount of cavity-causing bacteria found in your mouth, according to a 2010 study.

• Shape

Teeth, just like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Those cursed with crowded chompers may experience difficulty flossing, making it easy for plaque to stay put. Similarly, teeth with more grooves give bacteria a surplus of hiding spots.

Are bad behaviors to blame? 

Cavities are nearly 100% preventable, but hitting the genetic jackpot will only get you so far if you neglect your pearly whites. Smoking and sugar are obvious oral health no-no's, but what about the lesser-known nuances? Here are some not-so-obvious behaviors that can contribute to cavities:

• Snoring

Snoring can irritate your teeth (in addition to your spouse). Breathing through your mouth has been shown to increase dry mouth, creating a perfect place for germs to go wild.

• Constant Snacking

After you eat sugar, it takes just 20 seconds to convert it to cavity-causing acid. Consistent sipping and snacking reintroduces sugar to your smile. In terms of eating, time trumps amount. For example, sucking on a lollipop all day is actually more damaging than if you were to eat 15 lollipops right after lunch (though neither are a good idea).

• Appointment Skippers/Procrastinators

If you've missed a dental appointment, it can be hard to make it up and get back on a schedule, but don't let it slip! Missing your dental visits for two or more years significantly increases your risk for tooth decay. No matter how religious your regimen, brushing and flossing can't do it all. Even if your mouth feels fine, a dental issue can still exist. Oftentimes you won't exhibit any symptoms until your disease has become serious. Dentists do damage control on your teeth and can detect issues before they start.

Good genes or not, when it comes to your oral health you can still do your part to practice preventive care. Daily brushing and flossing will increase your healthy smile odds.