There are two main drivers that affect whether people are more likely to get cavities than others: lifestyle and DNA.
In this post we’ll explore both so you’ll have a better understanding of why some kids seem cavity-prone and others never seem to get cavities.
(And the lifestyle part will of course be more specific than simply avoiding sugary food.)
How DNA & Body Composition Affects The Likelihood of Getting Cavities
There isn’t anything we can do to change our DNA. Some people are fortunate and have a variety of physical attributes that makes it less likely they’ll get cavities. They may go their whole lives without that ever being a problem.
Other people, unfortunately, probably feel like cavities are a part of life.
This is due to a few things.
Strength of the teeth and the enamel. Just as some people have denser bones that are less likely to break than others, some kids have tougher or weaker enamel. It’s part of why some people can enjoy sugary foods and not seem to have issues, and others’ have teeth that seem far more susceptible to those things.
Minerals in the saliva. A big part of how mouth bacteria (that we all have) erodes teeth is the way it shifts the alkalinity of our mouths, which can demineralize the surface of teeth. Everyone’s saliva has various minerals in it, such as calcium as phosphate. For those with higher amounts of those minerals in the saliva, they may find that the saliva itself does a better job of resisting the ill effects of bacteria and protecting teeth.
The shape and grooves of the teeth. Everyone’s teeth are shaped slightly differently. Since bacteria can build up in nooks and harder to brush areas, those with more grooves in their teeth (or deeper grooves) are more likely to get cavities. Or in contrast, the smoother the surfaces of one’s teeth are the less prone to cavities they will be.
Genetic conditions. Recent studies have shown that more kids than experts once thought have genetic conditions such as amelogenesis imperfecta. In that particular case, baby teeth or over-mineralized and the adult teeth underneath develop with too little minerals, causing them to be weaker. These studies are now showing that up to 14% of children could be affected, which is a much higher percentage than the 1% we once thought it to be. (The Conversation).
Lifestyle & Habits That Affect Cavities
While every dentist will tell their patients how important regular brushing and flossing is, what you may not realize is how much when you do these things also matters.
You might be someone who brushes twice per day, and that’s a great start. But if you brush first thing in the morning and then not again until just before bed, everything you’ve eaten and drank throughout the day has been sitting on your teeth.
Acidic food that can wear away at enamel, for instance, has now been sitting there all day doing its damage. While it’s definitely a good idea to clean your teeth before bed so those substances don’t continue doing damage all night as well, some small degree of damage has been done for all those hours in between.
Those little, hard to notice effects add up over time, and can contribute to tooth erosion even for those that brush and floss regularly.
This is why, if it’s feasible in your day, brushing at lunch time as well is so important.
The most ideal habit is to brush after each meal. This leaves your mouth clean throughout the day, and build up from food never sits on the teeth.
Flossing is so important because of how harmful build up between the teeth can be. Most of the time it’s not something you can see readily, either. We can look in the mirror and inspect our teeth and not see anything obvious caught between them. But as anyone who flosses regularly can tell you, you’d be surprised what gets stuck in there.
If we don’t floss, bacteria and other substances can sit between the teeth for long periods of time, even despite brushing, and damage the enamel.
But flossing isn’t just about keeping teeth healthy; that build up between teeth also damages the gums.
In fact, one of the biggest causes of gum disease is not flossing over many years.
Related to our point above about DNA and minerals in our saliva, this is another reason diet plays into dental health.
Our bodies can’t supply ample minerals to our saliva if we aren’t eating the minerals.
Vitamin D contributes directly to strong bones and teeth (as does Calcium). Calcium phosphate in our saliva helps regular the pH levels in our mouths and mitigate bacteria.
And so on. This is why a healthy diet is more than simply avoiding over-indulging in sugary foods. We need to get ample vitamins and minerals to support our bodies’ defenses.
Hopefully this helps to understand why some children seem to get cavities more often than others, even when lifestyles are similar.
Call our office today with further questions, and to set up an appointment to speak with our pediatric team! We’re happy to be a resource for you and your family!