Dental News

Top 7 Risk Factors for Tooth Decay

January 26, 2015

If any of these risk factors apply to you, you need to be extra careful with your oral health.

Top 7 Risk Factors for Tooth DecayTooth decay can cause all kinds of problems, from minor pain or sensitivity to toothache, infection, and eventual tooth loss. Fortunately, with proper oral care at home, you can control the levels of plaque bacteria and acids in your mouth and help prevent tooth decay. If any of the following risk factors apply to you, you need to be extra careful to brush and floss twice a day and visit the dentist regularly in order to help prevent tooth decay.

Dry Mouth

Saliva is nature’s best protection against tooth decay. It helps wash away sugary food reside that plaque bacteria feed on, and can also help dislodge the bacteria themselves. Saliva can also help repair tooth decay to a limited degree by aiding in the remineralization process. Therefore individuals with decreased saliva production or dry mouth are at increased risk of developing cavities.

Crowded Teeth

Crooked, crowded, overlapping teeth are more likely to have nooks and crannies where plaque bacteria can thrive, unmolested by your toothbrush. This is why it is so important to floss daily as well as brush to keep tooth decay at bay.

Existing Dental Restorations

If you’ve already had a cavity, it is likely you’ll have another, especially if you don’t improve your oral care habits. Even if you do improve your brushing and flossing regimen, there is a risk of bacteria collecting along the edge of the restoration—be it a filling or a crown—and causing further decay.

Receding Gums

When gums recede (perhaps due to gum disease), the roots of the teeth may become exposed. Roots are not as well-protected from decay as the rest of the tooth because they are not covered by tooth enamel. To make matters worse, it is difficult to properly clean below the gum line so exposed roots may not get brushed properly. If decay sets in in the roots, you may need to get a root canal or you may lose the tooth.

Enamel Erosion

Another common risk factor for tooth decay and cavities is enamel erosion. Enamel erosion occurs when excessive abrasion (from overbrushing or grinding) or acid exposure (from food and drink) cause tooth enamel to wear away. Thinner enamel then becomes more vulnerable to cavities from plaque bacteria.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions that either decrease saliva production or change the acidity of the mouth have been linked to increased risk of tooth decay and cavities. This includes diabetes, acid reflux, and allergic rhinitis. Medications like antidepressants and antiepileptic medicines can also cause dry mouth.


An addiction to nicotine or to certain narcotics can also spell danger for your teeth. Smoking causes dry mouth, while users of heroin and other narcotics often develop a sweet tooth that leads to increased acid production by plaque bacteria. Methamphetamine addition is a particularly notorious contributor to tooth decay due to a combination of drug effects and behavioral changes that don’t support good oral health.

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