5 Things That Can Cause Cavities

Tooth decay is not only one of the most common dental problems, but according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, it is the most prevalent chronic disease in both children and adults. In fact, the NIDCR estimates that around 92% of American adults have had at least one dental cavity, while the average American has around three decayed or missing teeth.

With so many people affected by cavities every year, it raises the question of what causes them. While many people know that brushing and flossing are important, few ever question why they are important. To help you prevent cavities, it is important to know what causes them. Here are five things that can cause cavities: 


magnified view of bacteria on teeth

Our mouths naturally contain a bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. When the amount of this bacteria increases to excessive levels, it can cause tooth decay, as well as gum disease. This is because bacteria are living organisms that produce acidic waste products. When bacteria congregate in a single area, these acidic waste products become concentrated and start eroding the enamel. 


Bacteria alone does not cause cavities. As mentioned before, bacteria is a living organism that requires a food source in order to produce waste. Sugar is the primary food source of bacteria and 15 minutes after feeding on sugar, the bacteria  will start to produce acidic waste products. Therefore, the more sugar consumed, the more acids produced, and the greater the chances of developing a cavity. 


Dental plaque is a clear film that sits on the surface of the teeth. Since it is sticky, food particles and bacteria can easily accumulate within plaque. Additionally, plaque tends to provide an ideal habitat for bacteria in, as well as providing an adequate food source. The more plaque on your teeth, the higher your chances of developing tooth decay. 

Certain Medical Conditions

Woman with acid reflux

There are certain medical conditions that have been found to affect your oral health by increasing your chances of developing tooth decay. These conditions can include acid reflux disorder which erodes your enamel or diabetes, which can increase the risk of gum disease. In some cases, the medications used to treat medical conditions can also increase the risk of tooth decay. This is especially the case when dry mouth is a side effect of the medication. Saliva is the body’s natural defense mechanism, therefore a lack of saliva means the body is not able to protect itself. 

Teeth Grinding or Clenching

Teeth grinding or clenching is a detrimental dental habit that presses the opposing teeth together forcefully. Over time, both grinding and clenching cause the tooth enamel to wear down, which makes it more likely that it can become eroded or affected by tooth decay. 

As you can see, there are multiple things that can cause cavities. In most cases, it tends to be a combination of two or more of these things that end up causing a cavity. While you may not be able to control certain things such as medical conditions or medications, you are able to control sugar intake and the amount of dental plaque on your teeth. Therefore, brushing, flossing, and eating healthy can help reduce the risk of cavities. 

dentist standing in front of an xray

Dr. Victor Bustos graduated from Florida International University with an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Biology and then continued on to obtain his DMD from the University of Florida College of Dentistry. He strives to always stay current on the newest techniques and continuously attends dental continuing education courses and workshops to further his knowledge and hone his skills. Dr Bustos’ greatest satisfaction comes from helping patients achieve their dental goals.

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