Why are adults at risk for tooth decay?

Adults can be at risk for tooth decay. Many have fillings in their teeth which may be failing. Fillings that are breaking out around the edges of the filling can attract dental plaque, which causes tooth decay. Many adults also have receding gums as a result of gum disease. When gums recede, the root of the tooth is exposed. The root is not covered by the hard layer of the tooth called enamel. The root is more susceptible to tooth decay. Finally, many adults take medications which can dry the mouth. A dry mouth can lead to an increase in cavities as saliva is needed to help neutralize the acids made by dental plaque. Your dentist will be able to offer helpful techniques to keep your teeth clean from plaque and tooth decay.
Anyone with teeth is at risk for tooth decay, but adults are even more at risk because of several factors: They have older dental work/fillings, which do not last forever. Therefore, those teeth will likely need further work at some point.
Also, older folks tend to have more gum recession, which leads to more decay / cavities.

Another aspect I find it time. Adults are busy, and many skimp on oral hygiene to save a few precious minutes. Let's face it -- a 30-second brush is not the same as a 5-minute floss / water pic / brush routine. But the latter will go a long way in preventing decay. Take the time, folks -- it's worth it.
Nancy Jacobson
There are multiple factors for adult tooth decay. One of the less obvious factors is prescription medications for medical diseases and conditions. Many of these medications have a side effect that causes dry mouth. Saliva plays a big role in fighting the acid produced by bacteria that causes tooth decay. When saliva flow decreases, the acid does not get neutralized and can cause more tooth decay. In addition saliva flow prevents food from sticking to tooth surfaces.

Read the list of side effects associated with your prescription medication and see how many of them include "dry mouth". There are over-the-counter saliva substitutes available. Increasing the use of fluoride by using a fluoride rinse and toothpaste will help too. Some patients will try using candy to stimulate salivary flow. Sucking on candy in combination with dry mouth is a recipe for adult tooth decay.

In many ways adults are more at risk for tooth decay than children. Most adults have had fillings in at least several teeth. In those teeth the enamel has been compromised and is more susceptible to recurrent decay. Fillings do not last forever. They start to break down and bacteria gets under the old filling and new decay begins. Another issue for adults is that oftentimes the gums start to recede away from the teeth exposing the root of a tooth. Roots are not protected by enamel and are at a higher risk of getting decay. Another complicating factor is diet. Adults tend to sip sodas, sweet tea, or sweetened coffee frequently. This habit gives bacteria the fuel they need to break down the enamel and cause a cavity.

Tooth decay is caused by biofilm, commonly called plaque, which resides in the mouth. Some adults become expert at disrupting the biofilm on a daily basis. Other adults adopt lower standards of oral hygiene, allowing biofilm to remain and produce its byproduct; acid. Adults face additional challenges which can compromise proper oral hygiene; lack of time, declining dexterity, and compromised physical or mental health. The most common condition that places adults at risk for tooth decay is the multiple medications that adults take, many of which reduce the flow of saliva. A dry mouth is a breeding ground for biofilm and can accelerate decay. It is imperative that adults with dry mouth speak to a dentist regarding strategies for combating decay caused by dry mouth.

Changes that occur with aging make cavities an adult problem. Recession of the gums away from the teeth, combined with an increased incidence of periodontal (gum) disease, can expose tooth roots to plaque. Tooth roots are covered with cementum, a softer tissue than enamel. They are susceptible to decay and are more sensitive to touch and to hot and cold. The majority of people over age 50 have tooth-root decay.

Decay around the edges, or margins, of fillings is also common to older adults. Because many older adults lacked benefits of fluoride and modern preventive dental care when they were growing up, they often have a number of dental fillings. Over the years, these fillings may weaken and tend to fracture and leak around the edges. Bacteria accumulate in these tiny crevices causing acid to build up which leads to decay.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.