The Cavity Connection: Why some people get them more than others

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The Cavity Connection: Why some people get them more than others

Why are some people more prone to cavities?

You brush, you floss and then bam! A cavity appears. How is that possible? If you’re paying attention to your diet and not drinking sugary drinks (the number one cause of cavity causing bacteria) then chances are you have Mom and Dad to thank for being cavity prone. Sixty percent of why we get cavities has nothing to do with our dental hygiene. Read on to find out why some of us won the genetic lottery when it comes to cavities.

How Genetics Play a Role in Cavities

Just like our eye colour is determined by genetics, our tooth structure is as well. The following inherited characteristics can play a role in whether or not you will be cavity prone.

Enamel Strength

Some people have softer tooth enamel than others which makes it easier for bacteria to penetrate the tooth, leading to cavities. Since your genes are the primary determinant of enamel structure, they have a big effect on whether you get tooth decay.

Structure of teeth

Cavities are formed when two things combine: the bacterial process of fermenting the sugar and an existing hole or fissure in the tooth. Some of us tend to have crevices in the surface of our teeth that are naturally deep. These pits or crevices make it easier for bacteria to drill down and cause a cavity.

Sweet Tooth

It looks like some of us are hard wired to prefer candy to broccoli. According to an article at CNN.com, scientists have identified gene variants that show a range of “sweet preference.” The stronger your genetic “sweet preference,” the more likely you are to develop tooth decay. Apparently there are unicorns that prefer other tastes to sweets, and those people are less prone to cavities.

Taste Ability

“Taste ability” is a complex process involving your tongue and sense of smell. It measures the variety of things you can taste and if you are able to perceive certain flavors. The greater the variety in your genetic taste ability profile, the less likely you are to develop tooth decay.

Who knew that our ability to taste certain flavours is also genetic? Take, the herb cilantro, widely used in Mexican cooking-delicious to some, foul tasting and soap-like to others.

According to CNN.com, a study has identified a gene variant that allows some of us to enjoy cilantro. Those missing the gene variant will likely find the herb tastes like a bar of Dove, and we don’t mean the chocolate.

Whether that’s because more variety leads to fewer sweets, or whether there are other reasons, is not yet clear, but scientists are continuing to study the connection.

Saliva strength

You may not think of your saliva as being a powerful weapon against tooth decay, but it is. Not just the amount produced, as dry mouth (often caused by medication) can cause tooth decay, but the minerals in your saliva are weapons against cavities. Calcium, potassium and other minerals create strong healthy teeth that resist tooth decay. Some of us metabolize these elements better and their presence in our saliva will help fight decay.


You’ve probably heard a lot about this lately. Your Microbiota or microbiome is the beneficial bacteria that protect your body from infection. In your mouth there are separate communities of bacteria on your tongue, on the surface of your teeth and below your gum line. Together, these communities make up what is known as your microbiome. Having a healthy microbiome and a healthy immune response to these bacteria can impact your risk of developing tooth decay. Your immune response may be genetic as well.

Why do I always have so many cavities if I’m not genetically predisposed?

Tooth decay isn’t just caused by the shape of our teeth, and our genetic make-up as outlined above. The remaining forty percent that it is in our control is diet, hygiene and access to dental care.


It’s no surprise that the higher your diet is in sugar the greater the chance you have of getting cavities. Cavities are caused when the bacteria in our bodies break down sugars. Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay so as long as you’re consuming sugar, you’re more susceptible to cavities.

Sorry soda sippers…

While any sugary treat can hurt, according to Women’s Health magazine, sugary drinks are the worst. They coat every corner of your mouth with sugar to feed the bacteria that cause decay.


Though there are those anomalies who can skip flossing and not get cavities, it isn’t true for the majority of us. (Plus not flossing has been linked to inflammation leading to heart disease so why take the risk?) Proper oral hygiene is a must to keep cavities at bay. Brush and floss at regular intervals and see your hygienist for regular cleanings.

Is there anything else I can do to prevent cavities?

If you have teeth with deep grooves or pits you may want to ask your dentist about sealants, used to seal the crevices to prevent bacteria from entering them. Using fluoride toothpaste can help, as well as an oral rinse before brushing.

Some of us have blue eyes, some of us have dark hair and some of us are prone to cavities. If you are one of many who fall into this genetic category then you must be extra vigilant with your oral care. Being more susceptible to tooth decay, doesn’t necessarily mean you are fated to have a mouth full of cavities. It just means you have to play a bigger role in prevention.