The human body is an amazing thing, able to recover from many illnesses and injuries. Sadly, most damage to teeth is permanent—the body cannot heal teeth the way it can flesh or bones. As such, tooth decay is a serious issue at any age.

While we normally associate tooth decay with small children, who love sugary foods and are notoriously bad about brushing their teeth regularly, it can happen in adults. As we get older it’s important to care for our teeth and to understand what causes adult tooth decay and tooth loss. Some causes are acquired, some inherited. The most common include:

  • Tooth location and fissures between teeth. Back teeth—molars and premolars—are more prone to decay, as are any teeth with deep grooves and fissures. These surfaces give bacteria a place to collect and spread, making it more likely that a cavity will develop.
  • Sugary and starchy foods are a common cause of cavities at any age. While it’s OK to indulge in them on occasion, a diet with restricted sugars and starches is best for preventing adult tooth decay or tooth loss.
  • Frequent snacking or sipping on sugary or acidic drinks is a problem as well. In doing this you give bacteria constant fuel to grow and thrive, while acidic foods and drinks attack tooth enamel directly. Limiting  snacking and sticking to water can go a long way in preventing adult tooth decay and tooth loss.
  • Dry mouth is what it sounds like, a condition in which the mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva. There are many causes of dry mouth, but one of the results can be tooth decay. Saliva forms a protective barrier against bacteria growth and helps remineralize the enamel on our teeth. Without it, decay can start fairly quickly.
  • Heartburn and eating disorders can cause tooth decay by introducing stomach acids to the mouth where they eat away at tooth enamel while also interfering with saliva production. These tend to be long-term issues as well, so addressing them quickly is important in preventing adult tooth decay or tooth loss.
  • Wear and tear on fillings or other dental devices can cause tooth decay by creating fissures and rough edges where plaque and bacteria can gather. This can be an issue for older adults in particular who may be reliant on the dental prosthesis or just have more fillings as time goes by.

With so many things that can cause tooth decay or tooth loss in adults, it might seem like there are no solutions in sight. However, the good news is that there are several basic steps we can take to preserve a healthy smile for life. Maintaining a regular brushing and flossing routine is the biggest one—keeping teeth and gums clean and healthy is a huge step. Secondly, regular visits to the dentist’s office for an exam and cleaning can both prevent oral health issues and detect major problems before they start.