More than 90 percent of Americans have dealt with some degree of tooth decay by adulthood, but cavities are not just an issue for kids. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 25 percent of adults age 20 and up have untreated tooth decay.
The Causes of Tooth Decay
There are three main causes of tooth decay in adults: plaque, gum recession, and failed fillings. All of these issues are preventable through good oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
- Plaque – Plaque is the leading cause of cavities. Adults do tend to be more resistant than children in this regard, but it is still an issue. Plaque builds up on the teeth and along the gumline. It secretes acids that wear the tooth enamel and lead to cavities. Undisturbed plaque hardens into tartar, which is even more problematic because it cannot easily be removed at home and provides more surface area for plaque to accumulate. Adults can also contribute to cavities with diets that are high in acids, and those who drink a lot of soda or diet soda, for instance, as opposed to water, are more prone to cavities as well.
- Gum Recession – The most common reason gums recede is due to infections that lead to inflammation, which is gum disease. It is also possible to damage your gums by brushing too hard, which along with protecting your enamel, are the reasons the American Dental Association advises gentle brushing with a soft-bristled brush. When gums recede, tooth roots are directly exposed to acids and plaque, and since the cementum is not nearly as strong as enamel, cavities can form and progress quickly. When gum disease has advanced to the point that the gums are receding, it is generally not reversible. There are, however, treatment options to halt and manage the disease and, in some cases, graft new gum tissue.
- Failed Fillings – Fillings are not permanent oral restorations. If you got a silver filling when you were 10 years old, it is not unusual for that filling to require maintenance or need to be replaced by about age 25. Young adults often make the mistake of not going to a dentist because their teeth look and feel well, but preventive care is essential to avoiding future problems. If you have fillings, your dentist can monitor those through X-rays and other techniques. Note that when a filling weakens, you are particularly prone to tooth decay because bacteria can get into the tooth, but there is no easy way for you to clean that area.
Types of Cavities
There are three core types of cavities: smooth surface, pit and fissure, and root cavities. All of these are preventable with good oral hygiene and even reversible if caught early enough.
- Smooth surface cavities are tooth decay that begins on the flat surfaces of your teeth. These cavities are generally the least serious type and can be avoided with regular brushing and flossing.
- Pit and fissure cavities occur in the chewing surfaces of your molars and premolars. While they are avoidable through good oral hygiene, these teeth are often the hardest to keep clean.
- Root cavities occur directly on the tooth root, which is possible due to receding gums. Gum recession is most common in older people, so root cavities are less common in younger adults.
How Do You Prevent Cavities?
Brush your teeth in the morning after breakfast and again before going to bed using fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush. After brushing, be sure to floss and clean your tongue with either a toothbrush or tongue scraper. Limit your snacking and sugars, starches, and acids in particular. When you do snack, rinse vigorously with water afterward and consider chewing sugar-free gum with xylitol. Visit your dentist on a regular basis to have your teeth cleaned and your oral health assessed. Discuss with your dentist fluoride treatments, dental sealants, and therapeutic oral care products to help avoid cavities.
Get Rid of Cavities and Prevent Them
Fillings may often be associated with childhood, but you can get a cavity at any age. If there are signs that you may have tooth decay, Jeffrey D. Clark, DDS, urges you to schedule an appointment as soon as possible. Scheduling routine cleanings and checkups at Scottsdale Dental Excellence will help ensure that you avoid cavities in the future. Call today at 480 585 1853 to set that appointment.