We love to give our patients a clean bill of health. As much as we love the challenge a complicated reconstructive dentistry case, we love it even more when we can just admire your pearly whites and send you on your way.
But sometimes we have to be the bearers of bad news, sometimes very bad news. When this happens, some people are shocked that the number of cavities they have now is so much more than they expected. We understand: this seems like it’s coming out of nowhere. But, in reality, there are often good explanations for why we found more cavities this checkup than in the past. Here are a few common reasons why.
Age Impacts Oral Health
Everything wears out with time, and that includes your teeth. If you have a balanced bite, tooth wear can be very slow. But when combined with the other attacks on your teeth, such as chemical erosion by acidic foods, and the attack of oral bacteria, aging can make you more susceptible to cavities.
Other changes related to age can include a growing number of oral bacteria you’re exposed to, and changes in the oral environment. Some people produce less saliva when they get older. Dry mouth is very bad for your teeth, because saliva protects them. Without enough saliva, you’re much more likely to develop cavities.
Even if dry mouth isn’t natural for you, you are more likely to have dry mouth when you get older because it’s one of the most common side effects of medications. If you start taking any medication, there are good odds that you experience dry mouth as a side effect. Although you may not be aware of just how dry your mouth is, the bacteria can better exploit the environment, leading to a higher risk of cavities.
Lifestyle Changes Can Increase Cavities
Other times, you might have changed your lifestyle in ways that you don’t think impact your oral health, but actually do. If, for example, you’ve started a new job where you tend to eat more lunches out, especially fast food, you might have a lot more cavities than before.
The same is true if you’ve started picking up fancy drinks at Starbucks rather than making your own coffee at home–you’re consuming a lot more sugar (not to mention the acid inherent in coffee, anyway).
Some bad habits are very hard on your teeth. If you drink sour beers, wine, or cocktails, the acid and sugar in them can be very hard on teeth. Regularly consuming alcohol can also dry your mouth out, increasing your risk of cavities.
Other habits can be very bad for your teeth, too, such as smoking or vaping. These can both dry your mouth out, and they can change the bacteria in your mouth for the worse, increasing your risk of cavities and gum disease.
Even some supposedly good habits can be hard on your teeth. Becoming a distance runner can be great for your heart, but it can be hard on your teeth. Running and breathing through your mouth can lead to, you guessed it, dry mouth. Then if you tend to consume high carb snacks for energy on your run, it can cause an explosion of harmful bacteria. Under these conditions, even your saliva becomes acidic. And speaking of acidic, kombucha might seem like it’s good for you, but it’s so dangerously acidic for your enamel, it’s probably best to avoid it. The same goes for fruit juices.
Checkups Aren’t Regular
Most of the time, people who have a surprising number of cavities are also the same ones who skipped their checkups and cleanings. This might seem like a harmless decision. It’s hard to appreciate the preventive value of dental checkups, until you miss them.
At your checkups, we not only look for cavities, we help prevent them. We clean off hardened plaque deposits (called tartar) that shelter oral bacteria and polish your teeth to make it harder for oral bacteria to hold on.
If you miss those appointments, the rate at which cavities develop can increase. Let’s say you’re the kind of person who has about one cavity every other checkup. When you miss three checkups, you might expect to have a cavity or two, but the reality is that you’re more likely to have four, five, or more!
So, Now What?
How do you deal with the disappointment of having a lot of cavities at your checkup?
The best thing is to try to help us figure out why. Talk to us about things that you might be doing differently now than before. Some of it, we might be able to guess. Smoking, other tobacco, and acidic beverages leave clues on your teeth and gums–we can tell what’s been going on. That way, we can develop a plan for the future so you don’t have any unpleasant surprises at your next checkup. We offer CariFree treatments that can help prevent many cavities.
And, of course, get your current cavities treated. Untreated cavities help oral bacteria thrive, which can enlarge these cavities and increase your risk of new cavities.