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CAVITIES: Bad Luck or Bad Behavior?

February 2, 2016

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?

60% of cavities are genetics, according to experts. Like lefties and redheads, cavities can be a genetic gamble. Though genetic dentistry is still new, 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 nutrients, like fluoride and calcium.

• Immune System

Your body contains 1,000 species of microorganisms, which dictate your body’s immune response. If your immune system is a rock star, you’re likely skilled at fighting all sicknesses—including gum disease.

• Saliva

Though it’s not as blonde and brunette as hair color, here’s some highlights on the science of spit: Saliva contains 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. Teeth with more grooves give bacteria a surplus of hiding spots.

Are bad behaviors to blame?

Cavities are nearly 100% preventable. 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). The more you snore, the less saliva you produce. And a dry mouth is like spring break for bacteria—germs go wild. Here are some tips to help with snoring.

• Constant Snacking

After you present sugar to your pearly whites, 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 after lunch (though neither are a good idea).

• Appointment Skippers/Procrastinators

Just 2 years sans dentist appointments 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.

Though there’s no crystal ball for cavities, you can still do your part to practice preventive care. Daily brushing and flossing will increase your healthy smile odds.