Cavities: Not just for kids

Even adults can get cavities

Most Americans don’t make it into adulthood without at least a few cavities. In fact, more than 90% of adults over the age of 40 have had tooth decay in their permanent teeth. What many adults don’t realize is that the risk of tooth decay isn't something you can outgrow.

"Fillings are more than just an unfortunate souvenir of childhood," said Kevin Sheu, DDS, director of professional services for Delta Dental. "Changes associated with aging can make cavities a problem for people of any age."

Receding gums are one of the culprits behind adult cavities. Whether due to gum disease or to overly vigorous tooth brushing, gum tissue can become swollen or damaged and expose the sensitive roots of teeth. Unlike the surfaces of teeth that are above the gum line, roots are not protected by hard enamel and are instead covered by a softer material known as "cementum." This makes the root surfaces more susceptible to the effects of plaque buildup, which can eventually lead to decay.

When gums recede and expose the roots of the teeth, it becomes especially important to maintain proper daily oral hygiene. Brush gently at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, giving special attention to the gum line. Gentle brushing will do the trick and will help preserve the gum tissue while reducing discomfort due to sensitive exposed roots. Daily flossing and visits to the dentist for preventive care are other important tools for preserving oral health.

Existing fillings can also contribute to adult cavities. As a filling weakens over time, it tends to fracture and the seal between the filling material and the tooth loosens. Bacteria can accumulate in the cracks and crevices, causing acid buildup that promotes decay. Maintaining fillings is one way to protect teeth from further decay and to retain the integrity of restored teeth. Your dentist can check existing fillings for wear and determine if a filling needs to be replaced. In some cases failed fillings need to be replaced with crowns or can require endodontic treatment involving a root canal or tooth extraction and replacement with a prosthetic tooth.

"Any changes to your oral health, such as increased tooth sensitivity, swollen and painful gums or fillings that are loose, should be examined by dentist to prevent possible damage or loss of your teeth,” Sheu said. Schedule dental exams for preventive care and don’t put off additional visits to the dentist if you experience any changes to your oral health.

Last updated: May 2015

Information courtesy of Delta Dental Plans Association.

The oral health information on this web site is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.

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