Five Surprising Facts about Cavities

October 24, 2014 Providence Health Team

You might know the basics about good oral health: floss, brush, avoid too much candy. But, did you know cavities are caused by germs? Or that it’s the frequency of snacking, not just the type of snack, that leads to decay?

Oral health is an essential part of overall health. Yet, a recent statewide survey showed that many people don’t know what causes painful and costly cavities, or how to prevent them. Here are five surprising facts that everyone should learn to help prevent cavities, stay healthy and save money.

Surprise #1: Cavities are caused by infectious germs

Most people don’t know that cavities are caused by germs. Even more surprising is that these cavity-causing germs are infectious. The germs can actually be spread via saliva (typically from moms to babies) by sharing food, utensils, or even kisses. If you’re pregnant, get any active decay treated before your baby is born.

Surprise #2: Snacking too frequently can cause cavities

Another big surprise: it’s the frequency of snacking (or sipping) – not just the type of snack or beverage – that leads to cavities. Sweet or high-carb foods and drinks feed the germs that cause decay. After eating, these germs make acid. The acid attacks teeth for 20 minutes, literally destroying the enamel – and leading to cavities.

Continually snacking (or sipping sweetened lattes, juices or sodas) throughout the day means teeth are being exposed to a constant acid attack. If you have a snack, it’s better to eat it all at once rather than nibble throughout the day. Like muscles, teeth need time to rest and recover.

Surprise #3: Even “healthy” foods can lead to decay

Many foods often considered healthy (bagels, granola bars and dried fruit) aren’t good for teeth. Cavities aren’t just caused by consuming too much sugar. Carbohydrates and other sticky foods are also big contributors to decay. When food sticks to teeth, it feeds the germs that cause cavities. Choose tooth-healthy snacks such as fruits, vegetables, cheese and nuts. If you can’t resist that delicious treat, it’s good to brush afterwards. If you can’t brush, rinse your teeth with water.

The best beverage choice is always water. Juice and sports drinks, sometimes viewed as a healthy alternatives to soda, contain sugar that leads to cavities. And watch out for diet soda, too. It has acid that harms your teeth.

Surprise #4: Over your lifetime, a cavity costs more than $2,000

Cavities are preventable and prevention saves money. With good oral hygiene (don’t forget the floss), smart snacking and regular checkups, cavities are almost totally preventable. Fluoride helps, too. Fluoridated water, fluoride toothpaste and fluoride varnish are important tools to prevent cavities. If caught early enough, dental decay can even be reversed. Each cavity prevented saves more than $2,000 over your lifetime. With more than 32 teeth in your mouth, taking care of your teeth and gums is a good investment! Plus, if you and your children have a healthy mouth, you don’t have to take time off from work or school because you’re in pain.

Surprise #5: You’re more fit if your mouth is fit

Oral health affects overall health and fitness. Poor oral health has been linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Plus, problems with teeth and gums affect appearance. You won’t look your best with a stinky infection in your mouth. And you can’t feel your best if that infection spreads to other parts of the body.

The good news is you can keep your teeth healthy throughout life, but only by taking care of your mouth. Unleash the power of good oral health: brush, floss, eat healthy snacks and get regular oral health checkups. Your health and appearance will benefit. And, so will your pocketbook.

To learn more about how to prevent cavities and unleash the power of oral health, visit

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