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Tooth Decay - What Increases Your Risk

The following things make it more likely that you will have tooth decay and develop cavities.

Things that you can control

  • Your dental care.
    • If you do not brush and floss your teeth regularly, plaque and bacteria build up on your teeth. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day helps remove the plaque from the surfaces of your teeth, between your teeth, and under your gums. With less plaque, there are fewer bacteria to make the acids that eat away your teeth.
    • Not having your teeth cleaned by your dentist also allows plaque to build up. Your dentist or dental hygienist scrapes off the plaque and tartar, giving your teeth a "clean start." Regular visits to your dentist for cleaning and checkups can help prevent tooth decay and also catch other dental problems early, before they become serious.
  • Eating foods that are high in sugar and other carbohydrates (pastries, grains, pasta, and bread). Bacteria feed on these types of food, so eating a lot of them speeds up the rate of tooth decay.
  • Lack of fluoride. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to acids produced by plaque. If your local water supply does not have enough fluoride in it, use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Also talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about other ways you can increase your fluoride levels.
  • Smoking, using spit (smokeless) tobacco, or being in areas where you breathe in tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke).
  • Drinking alcohol.

Things that you cannot control

  • Dry mouth (xerostomia) and Sj�gren's syndrome. Both of these conditions cause you to be unable to produce enough saliva. Saliva washes away food and harmful sugars and helps protect your teeth from decay. Older adults are more likely to have a dry mouth and more rapid tooth decay because of the dryness. Many prescription and over-the-counter medicines (such as medicines for colds, high blood pressure, and depression) can also cause dry mouth.
  • Age. Young people whose teeth are still growing are more likely to have tooth decay. This is because the minerals in new teeth are not stable and are easier for acids to eat away. Older people may lose more gum tissue and be at a greater risk for root cavities.
  • Respiratory conditions, such as allergic rhinitis, which cause you to breathe through your mouth. When you breathe through your mouth, you dry out the saliva that can help protect your teeth.
  • Certain types of bacteria in the mouth that are more likely to cause tooth decay.
  • Diabetes. People who have diabetes may have an immune system that does not work very well, which increases the risk of tooth decay.
  • Using medicines that contain sugar. The sugar feeds the bacteria. Your doctor may be able to prescribe sugar-free medicine.

Things that increase an infant's or child's risk

  • Going to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, or formula in his or her mouth. The sugar in these drinks feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay (baby bottle tooth decay ).
  • Sharing utensils. Babies are not born with decay-causing bacteria in their mouths. But bacteria are easily transferred from the parent into the baby's mouth through utensils. Sometimes kissing can also transfer saliva and bacteria. You can help prevent tooth decay in your child by making sure that your family practices good dental health habits.
  • Being exposed to tobacco smoke. The chances of a child's having tooth decay increase with exposure to secondhand smoke.1
1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 19, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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