Getting your kids to take good care of their teeth can feel like an uphill battle sometimes. They hate brushing, they avoid it when they can, and to make matters worse, young children have a mean sweet tooth. For parents, keeping their teeth protected from dental caries, better known as cavities, can seem almost impossible.

The Truth About Cavities: Why Some People Get Them More Than Others

Some people barely keep up with their dental health, and yet they hardly ever seem to have any cavities. Some even make it to adulthood without having had one single cavity. But then, other people diligently brush, floss, and go to the dentist, and yet they still get occasional caries despite their best efforts.

Good oral hygiene practices and low sugar consumption are certainly important for preventing enamel demineralization and other dental health problems. But unfortunately, there are also genetic factors at play, and some people are simply more susceptible to dental caries than others. This isn’t an invitation to ignore your dental health just because you’ve never had a cavity, of course. But some people get them more easily than others.

There hasn’t been all that much research, to date, into the genetic underpinnings of dental caries. However, genes regulating a variety of factors that affect the mouth can all play a role in susceptibility to cavities. Genes can affect the composition of saliva, tooth enamel, and the prevalence of oral bacteria, all of which could make you more susceptible to caries. There are even genes that influence dietary preferences, giving some people, a propensity for high sugar or starch intake that promotes cavity-causing bacterial plaque.


Again, this doesn’t mean it’s not important to brush, floss, find the best dentist and consume refined sugar and starches in moderation. However, some kids just get cavities more easily than others, and at least part of the reason is being dealt a poor hand by the genetic lottery.

What You Can Do to Keep Your Children’s Teeth Healthy

As you kids get older, they take more responsibility for their own oral health. They go from having their teeth brushed for them, to supervised brushing, to handling it themselves. As a parent, there are actions you can take to reduce the likelihood that your children will develop cavities. Even in children with heightened susceptibility to dental caries, good oral hygiene and a low sugar diet can improve their outcome.

Teach Good Oral Health Habits Often & Early

When kids learn good dental health habits during childhood, it will stick with them for a lifetime. It’s important to teach your children proper brushing and flossing techniques, and to make sure they brush twice a day and floss at least once per day. This starts as soon as their first baby teeth come in. They should be educated, at an age-appropriate level they can genuinely understand, about why brushing and taking care of their teeth is so important.

Make Sure They Brush

Up until about age five or six, you’re probably actively assisting your child with brushing. By the time they enter kindergarten, they’re often ready to brush on their own. However, it’s still important to supervise young children as they brush, to make sure they’re doing it correctly and for a long enough period of time. Their brush should be comfortable for them to hold and use, and sized appropriately for their mouth. Toothbrushes featuring their favorite characters can be more fun, and you can choose a toothpaste flavor that they like. Adult toothpastes are almost exclusively mint, but children’s toothpastes come in various fruity and bubblegum flavors that kids may find more palatable. Children also tend to find electric toothbrushes fun to use.

Limit Their Sugar Intake

As your kids get older, it’s harder to police their eating habits. But in general, serving healthy food at home and discouraging excessive consumption of sugary foods can help protect their teeth. It’s okay to serve dessert occasionally, but they don’t really need to be eating cookies and ice cream every day. Like refined sugar, starchy foods can also promote plaque formation and bacterial growth that causes enamel demineralization. Balanced diets are important for growing kids, and can help protect their teeth from cavities.

Don’t Worry Too Much if Your Kid Gets a Cavity

Frequent, recurrent dental caries are cause for concern, but almost all children have a cavity at some point or another. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, being afraid of getting a cavity drilled was a popular plotline in children’s cartoons. If you’re concerned about your child’s oral health, talk to your dentist about what you can do to decrease the instance of cavities.