Do you know your cavity risk?

March 11, 2024, Kyle Isaacs

Dentist and child look at tablet in a dentist chairDo you know what your risk of getting cavities is? What about your child’s risk? Did you know that your dental provider can help you determine your risk each time you see them? Dental providers look inside a patient’s mouth to assess risk and ask questions to find out the most information possible to decide what a patient’s risk is and how they can help their patients prevent cavities.

Maybe your Dental provider already does this, as I know a lot do. You can ask at your next appointment to better understand why they recommend a specific preventative product for you and your family. I will share some insights here so that you will understand more about your own risk and that of your kids.

Mom and young child brush teeth together

What we look for in deciding on a person’s risk for cavities:

  • Do you have a dental provider, and have you been going regularly (a yes to this decreases your risk)?
  • How clean is your mouth? Is there a lot of plaque or bacteria? (do not worry; we do not judge) If there is a lot, your risk goes up as the bacteria, with other factors, makes it easier to get cavities.
  • What is your diet like? Do you eat and drink a lot of sweetened drinks, sweets, and simple carbohydrates, especially between meals? (if yes, the risk is increased).
  • Do you have a dry mouth, or are you a mouth breather? (If yes, this increases the risk for cavities as a dry mouth is a great habitat for bacteria to grow and make acids)
  • Do you take medications daily? If yes, this increases dryness and overall risk.
  • Do you have any systemic diseases such as Diabetes? If yes, your risk increases.

Here are some of the things dental professionals look for. Most of these can be used for any age, but some are age-specific for the little ones.


High-risk factors

  • The mother/primary caregiver has active tooth decay
  • The parent/caregiver has a lifetime of poverty
  • The child eats or drinks between-meal sugar-containing snacks or drinks three or more times a day.
  • The child uses bottles or no-spill cups with sweetened drinks, even natural ones like juice, between meals and/or at bedtime
  • They have new white spot areas on their teeth (these are weaker areas on the tooth)
  • New cavities are seen on X-rays
  • They have new fillings that were done within the past three years
  • The child takes medications that can decrease salivaYoung girl in a pink shirt eating watermelon
  • The child has special health care needs
  • There is a decrease in saliva
  • There is visible plaque on teeth
  • The patient wears an intraoral appliance like an expander, braces, and space maintainers
  • The child eats simple carbohydrates like crackers (fish, graham, cheese-its, chips) and processed foods
  • The child has missing teeth from cavities
  • Being exposed to secondhand smoke
  • A child who has a sibling with cavities

Protective factors:  We want these.

  • The child drinks water with fluoride or receives fluoride supplements if there is no fluoride in the water
  • The child has teeth brushed daily with fluoridated toothpaste
  • The child receives topical fluoride from a health professional
  • The child has a dental home/regular dental care
  • A child eats foods that are healthy to the teeth: proteins, nuts, seeds, yogurt that is not sweetened, cheese, veggies, and fruit

Once you and your dental provider know your risk, you can plan the best way to move forward to help decrease the chance of more cavities. This might include the following:

  • More frequent cleanings and check-ups
  • A prescription fluoride toothpaste (not for kids under six years old)
  • An over-the-counter fluoride rinse (usually not for kids under six years old)
  • Silver diamine fluoride is applied to cavities at the dental office.
  • Make sure all family members go to their dental provider and get treated.Two small children drinking milk
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Sealants placed on permanent molars.
  • Not being exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Learning how to brush and floss effectively to decrease the bacteria.
  • If mouth breathing, get evaluated by a myofunctional therapist for an airway evaluation.
  • Having fluoride varnish applied 2-4x a year.
  • Using xylitol daily (see my other blog on the use of xylitol)
  • Other in-office treatments
  • Working with the child’s pediatrician if special health care needs cause a decrease in saliva