We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but sometimes it’s the truth: you might come in for an appointment, and we have to tell you that have multiple cavities. Sometimes, the number of cavities you have now might be more than you’ve ever had in your life.
Usually when this happens, our patients respond with disbelief. Sometimes this disbelief bleeds into anger. But in these situations, it’s best not to shoot the messenger. The truth is that there are many reasons why you might have more cavities than you’re used to. Here are some of the most common.
You’re Getting Older
One of the simplest explanations is just that everything wears out with time. Our teeth start out with a naturally thick coat of enamel that is smooth and hard for bacteria to cling to. Over time, our teeth become pitted as acid attacks the enamel, and mechanical wear leads to scratches and cracks. These tiny breaks in the teeth can make it easier for oral bacteria to cling to your teeth, which allows them to excrete acid on the teeth and create cavities.
Other changes occur with age, too. As we get older, we have more exposure to different oral bacteria, which can increase our risk for cavities and gum disease. In addition, our body’s natural defenses may not be as robust as before. Our ability to produce saliva, for example, may decline with age, leading to dry mouth. Dry mouth is one of the leading risk factors for cavities and gum disease.
And these days one of the other common effects of getting older is having more prescriptions. Prescription medications, as well as illegal drugs, can increase your risk of cavities. Often, the intermediate culprit is dry mouth, one of the most common side effects of medication.
Your Habits Have Changed
Another possibility is that your lifestyle has changed in some significant way. You might think that this isn’t related to your oral health, but it might be.
Any time you change your diet, you can significantly change your risk for cavities. If you’ve started eating more fast food meals, for example, you can expect to have a lot more cavities because of the increased sugar and acids.
Your choice in drinks makes a big difference, too. If you used to have black coffee, but switched to iced coffee drinks that are high in sugar, you can expect more cavities. The same is true if you started drinking more soda. And let’s not forget kombucha. The recently popular drink du jour is highly acidic, often more acidic than soda.
And speaking of drinking, different alcohol choices can increase your risk for cavities. If you used to drink beer, but recently switched to wine, your teeth might suffer due to the higher acidity of wine. In addition, cocktails are not only likely to be acidic, they’re often loaded with sugar.
Other habits can impact your cavity risk, too. If you’ve started smoking or vaping, you might find that your cavities increase significantly. These habits can cause dry mouth and may suppress your immune response to oral bacteria.
If you’ve taken up distance running or bicycling, this can have a surprising impact on your oral health, too. The hard breathing can dry out your mouth, and energy gels or bars are loaded with sugar, making the perfect situation for oral bacteria to bloom.
You’ve Missed a Few Appointments
Many people underestimate the value of preventive checkups and cleanings. These visits help you stave off cavities, so when you miss them your rate of decay can increase. If you used to have just one cavity at a checkup, but missed three checkups, you might not have three cavities, but six or nine. Not only is it longer since your last appointment, you haven’t had professional cleanings to protect your teeth.
How to Respond to a Disappointing Checkup
So, what do you do when you get a checkup with more cavities than you’re used to? First, don’t get mad. It doesn’t help anyone, especially not you. (Stress is bad for teeth, too!)
Second, help us understand why this might be happening. We’re not here to judge you, we’re here to keep you healthy. We can do that better if you give us a few clues as to what might be going on. That way, we can not only fix your current cavities, but give you tips to reduce your risk of having more checkups like this in the future.
If you feel that you might want to get a second opinion, go ahead. We can turn over x-rays and notes to the other dentist so you don’t have to pay for new ones. We are all on the same team and want to protect your oral health.
Finally, don’t forget to treat your current cavities. Left untreated, cavities get worse. Fillings not done today become crowns you need tomorrow. And they serve as protected sites where oral bacteria thrive and can spread their attacks to other teeth. The sooner you get your current cavities treated, the lower your risk of future cavities.