Are cavities normal in adults?

This blogpost will answer the question “Are cavities normal in adults?” and will include the following topics: What is a cavity?Can Adults Get Cavities?How common are cavities?How cavities form? The Most Common Ways Adults Get Cavities. 

What are the types of cavities?Who might get a cavity?

What causes cavities?What are the risk factors for cavities?What are the signs of cavities?How are cavities diagnosed?

How are cavities managed or treated?How can I prevent a cavity?When should I call the doctor? Cavity Complications

Are cavities normal in adults?

Yes, cavities are normal in adults who have poor oral hygiene or bad oral habits.

92% of people aged 18-64 had cavities according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

What is a cavity?

Cavities are small openings or holes that develop on the surface of the tooth due to tooth decay. Tooth decay is called dental caries and happens due to the acid attack by the bacteria present in the mouth. Tooth decay starts from the top layer protective layer that is the enamel and if not treated, progresses deep into the tooth upto the root and even the bone.

Can Adults Get Cavities?

Yes , adults can get cavities. Although it is less common when compared to children, there is no rule against it. Adults develop cavities less frequently as they practice good oral habits but other habits such as smoking, tobacco consumption can contribute towards developing cavities.

How common are cavities?

Cavities are the most common chronic disease affecting people of all ages. Oral health is always taken for granted, according to a  The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 92% of adults 20 to 64 have had dental caries in their permanent teeth

How cavities form?

Cavities are formed by the production of acid by the bacteria present in the mouth.

When the bacteria present in the mouth comes in contact with food, it produces acid and this acid destroys the protective layer which is the enamel and rots the tooth surface leading to dental caries. Cavities appear as black or brown spots on the tooth. If left, untreated cavities can become painful and can even result in loss of the tooth at later stages.

The Most Common Ways Adults Get Cavities. 

Adults can get cavities due to various reasons, some of which can be:


Some medications can lead to reduced saliva secretions and can dry out the mouth. Saliva maintains pH of the oral cavity and keeps it clean and lubricated. Hence, absence of saliva contributes to more production of the bacteria. Increased number of bacteria results in more and more acid production, all leading to dental caries and hence cavities. Since , it may not be possible to eliminate the medications therefore it is necessary to take extra precaution to keep the mouth lubricated. That can be done by keeping yourself hydrated and taking artificial saliva or saliva ejectors, if prescribed by the doctor.

Tooth Grinding

Tooth grinding is a problem that many people are not even aware that they have as they grind their teeth while sleeping. Some people even grind teeth while they are under stress or when angry. Grinding of teeth wears down the enamel and makes them more susceptible to cavities. The acid from the bacteria can easily attack the tooth without enamel and develop caries in no time. If you are aware that you have grinding tooth problems you should contact your dentist and also get a bite guard.

Deep Teeth Crevices

Some people have deep crevices in their teeth naturally. This kind of morphology is generally due to genetics. Deep pits and fissures can easily become a site of food accumulation leading to development of cavities. At times, this issue can be reduced by dental treatments but the only way to protect your teeth from cavities is to maintain good oral hygiene and taking extra care by brushing twice a day and flossing regularly.

Poor Nutrition

Regularly eating foods that have acidic, sugar and carbohydrate content may lead to cavities in adults. Bacteria act on these kinds of foods really quickly and produce acid. The longer the food particles stay in the mouth, the more acid is produced by the bacteria. Therefore it is recommended to brush or at least rinse your mouth after every meal.

Avoiding the Dentist

People usually avoid going to the dentist because they don’t feel the need to go when they don’t have any pain or dental issues and hence don’t even realize cavities are growing, and when they do it;s already too late. Therefore it is recommended to visit dentists regularly for check-ups.

Bad oral habits

Smoking , tobacco consumption is a very common cause of cavities. These habits keep the oral pH acidic and hence the teeth become more susceptible to develop caries.


As we grow older, the gums start receding. Rescission of gums exposes the roots which are sensitive and also become prone to cavities.

What are the types of cavities?

Cavities can affect all parts of the tooth. It may take some time to develop a cavity but as soon as it develops it starts progressing to the other surfaces of the tooth and even the adjacent tooth. Cavities progresses from the enamel to dentin which is the middle layer and then to the pulp which is the most sensitive part of the tooth because it contains the nerve endings.

Types of cavities include:

Smooth surface

This type of cavity develops on the surface and progresses slowly dissolving the enamel. In rare cases it can be reversed, when detected at a very early stage by appropriate brushing techniques and flossing. Young adults are often at risk of developing this type of cavity.  

Pit and fissure decay

Pits and fissures present on the surface of the teeth are a susceptible site of food accumulation, which can lead to developing cavities very fast. Teenagers are more prone to develop pit and fissure decay.

Root decay

Receding gums are a cause of root decay. Gum recession exposes the roots which becomes a site of acid attack by the bacteria and development of cavities. Mostly old people have receding gums and hence are prone to develop such type of cavities 

Who might get a cavity?

Cavities can occur to anyone at any age. It is most common in children as they are not able to practice good oral habits very efficiently. 

Adults also get cavities due to their habits  which can include not brushing properly , not maintaining good oral hygiene, smoking etc.  recession of gums is also a cause in older individuals for the development of cavities.

What causes cavities?

A lot of factors are involved in the development of cavities such as:

Bacteria present in the mouth live off the carbs and sugary foods. This bacteria then produces acid  when it comes in contact with the accumulated food on the tooth.

Without proper flossing and tooth brushing the acid stays on the surface of the tooth and starts decaying it and finally causes cavities.



What are the risk factors for cavities?

There are some factors that can escalate the risk of cavities,these include:

Some medical conditions like Sjogren’s syndrome in which there is decreased production of saliva

Some  medications, like antiepileptics, antihistamines, antihypertensive etc can make the mouth dry..

Regular consumption of sugary and starchy foods and drinks


Radiation therapy to treat head and neck cancer

Recession of gums

What are the signs of cavities?

Surface cavities do not cause any pain and that’s why they go unnoticed. It may appear as brown spots but only when looked very closely. You may experience pain only when the cavity progresses to dentin or pulp. The signs and symptoms of cavities depend on its location and size. Some signs of cavity include:

  • Bad breath 
  • sensitivity
  • Bleeding gums.
  • Gum swelling.
  • Pain at the site or whole in the whole jaw
  • Inflammation of gums
  • Pain while chewing
  • Pain while talking

How are cavities diagnosed?

A regular dental check up preferably twice-a-year is the best way to catch cavities at early stages. The dentist would do an oral examination with a dental explorer to check the hardness of your tooth and then an X-ray to see the depth of your cavity and make the final diagnosis.

How are cavities managed or treated?

Treatment of cavities is solely dependent on the extent of tooth decay. Treatments include:

  • Fluoride: Treatment with fluoride is done when the cavity is caught at an early stage. It can be achieved through prescribed fluoridated mouthwash and toothpastes and even in office topical fluoride application. This process is called remineralization. 
  • Fillings: Once a cavity is formed, the only way to protect the remaining tooth is through a filling. For this, the dentist drills a hole and removes the decayed and fills it with a dental filling.
  • Root canal: A root canal treatment (RCT) is done when the decay has progressed to the roots. The dentist removes the pulp and fills the roots with specific material and finally adds a crown to protect the tooth.
  • Tooth extraction: In cases where a root canal isn’t possible, the dentist may require to extract the tooth. After an extraction there are multiple options that you can go for to replace your missing tooth.

How can I prevent a cavity?

Taking appropriate measures to maintain good oral hygiene can prevent cavities. These include:

Tooth-brushing with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day

Reduce intake of sugary, starchy foods and drinks.

Regular flossing, especially for people with deep crevices 

Regular dental checkups every six months

Drinking fluoridated water.

Avoid smoking

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your healthcare when you experience any one of the symptoms:

Bleeding of the gums.

Difficulty chewing food

Swelling in any part of the face



Cavity Complications

Complications of cavities may include:


Tooth abscess

Swelling in or around the tooth

Brittle teeth

Chewing problems

In cases when cavities and decay become very severe, you may experience:

Pain that interferes with daily living

Weight loss 

Tooth loss, which may affect your appearance, leading to low self esteem

In some cases, a tooth abscess — a pocket of pus that’s caused by bacterial infection — which can lead to more serious infections.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do healthy people get cavities?

Yes, even healthy people can get cavities. People often take care of their overall health but neglect the oral health which results in cavities and other oral problems.

How often do adults have cavities?

 Cavities are very common among adults. 92% of people aged 18 to 64 have had cavities in their permanent teeth, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Are cavities my fault?

Cavities are not entirely your fault if you practice good oral hygiene and take care of your teeth, but a few factors such as genetics or medical conditions which are not in your control hence cavities may sometimes be not your fault. 

Do I need a filling if I have no pain?

Yes, you need a filling even if you have no pain. Pain usually develops in later stages when the decay has progressed to the pulp, so it is a good idea to get the cavity removed and fill it rather than waiting for it to progress further.

What happens if you wait too long to get a cavity filled?

Waiting too long to get the cavity filled can result in excruciating pain and swelling and if the decay progresses to the roots you may need to undergo a root canal treatment and in severe cases an extraction.

Other FAQs about Teeth Cavities that you may be interested in.

How long does it take to fill a cavity?

Why am I getting cavities all of a sudden?

Can you keep a cavity from getting worse?

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!