Common Conditions

Why Am I Getting Cavities All of a Sudden?

If you're getting cavities all of a sudden, here's what to know and some strategies to help you find the root cause.

by Dr. Burhenne

why am i getting cavities all of a sudden

My patient — let’s call her Kim — came into the office with a problem: She was getting cavities all of a sudden. She had been my patient for over 20 years and never had a cavity before, but she was coming in for several fillings.

At the end of this post, I’ll share my strategies for how to find out why you’re getting cavities all of a sudden. But before we get into it, I want to share one piece of information that should be your #1 takeaway from this blog post:

If you’re getting cavities all of a sudden, find out the root cause. Getting a filling should be step one; step two should be finding out why you’re getting cavities all of a sudden so that you don’t get more. Prevention is always the best cure.

When someone who didn’t get many cavities before starts getting cavities all of a sudden, it’s almost always something environmental that has changed that’s causing the sudden increase. So, I asked Kim to walk me through her day-to-day. What was different? Something had to have changed in either her lifestyle or her diet.

She racked her brain and couldn’t think of anything. I asked her about some of the most common causes of sudden cavities. Was she adding more sugar to her coffee? Was she sipping on Coke while staying up late studying? (She was in nursing school). Had she been sick recently and using cough drops? (These can be very high in sugar.)

cavities and chewable melatonin tablets

Finally, we figured it out.

“You know what, there is one thing I’m doing differently!” she said. “I’ve been using melatonin tablets right before bed, after I brush my teeth.”

Bingo. After she brushed her teeth. We looked at the ingredients of the bottle and there it was: Dextrose was the first ingredient, another name for sugar.

So there you have it. A chewable melatonin tablet was the culprit. Kim began taking these tablets before she began her nighttime routine of brushing, flossing, and tongue scraping, thus eliminating the cause. We’re pleased to say she’s back to no longer getting cavities.

Below are all the most common reasons that make people get cavities all of a sudden. Check the list and let me know if it helps you find out what’s causing your cavities.

Why Am I Getting Cavities All of a Sudden?

Change in daily routine: If you weren’t getting cavities before and now you are, it’s highly likely that something in your life has changed that’s causing the sudden onset. Consider lifestyle factors like diet, stress, starting school or a new job, and new habits.

Stress: Stress isn’t just in your head; it has an effect on the entire body. Stress increases the immune response and inflammation throughout the body. Stress can also give you dry mouth or make you crave the wrong foods. A lot of my patients are entrepreneurs, students, or new parents and the added stress brings with it increased cavities.

New exercise routine: If you’ve started jogging or working out, you might be getting dry mouth. Saliva helps neutralize the acids in our mouth, which are what cause tooth decay and cavities. If you have less saliva due to dry mouth, this could cause cavities.

More frequent sugar: When it comes to your teeth, the amount of sugar you eat doesn’t matter as much as how long the exposure is. Eating five slices of cake all at once would be better than sucking on a hard candy or a cough drop for an hour. Sipping on soda or snacking frequently can all be culprits of an increase in cavities.

A sore throat or the flu: Sucking on cough drops all day long are a common culprit of cavities that people don’t know about.

More acidic foods: Do you have a new favorite food or drink that’s high in acid? Some common culprits are citrus and tropical fruits, tomato sauce, sports drinks, and soda.

Overbrushing: Most people overbrush, hoping to get the chore done faster. What they don’t realize is that toothbrush bristles can actually do quite a bit of damage by cutting away enamel.

Not enough brushing and flossing: This one goes without saying. Brush up on your flossing and brushing technique. If you hate flossing, try out a flossing stick.

A new dentist: A common pattern of dental fraud is seeing a new dentist for the first time who prescribes a ton of new treatment. Trust your gut; if you’ve never had all your cavities your whole life, see the dentist every six months, and have excellent oral hygiene, then it should raise a red flag if a new dentist tells you that you suddenly need twelve fillings. See my guide to Little Known Ways to Make Sure You Never Get Ripped Off at the Dentist.

Gum recession: Receding gums expose the root of the tooth. The root is the part of the tooth below the gum and it doesn’t have a protective enamel covering like the rest of your tooth, making it much more susceptible to decay and cavities.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy treatment can result in dry mouth, which makes you more prone to cavities.

Braces: If you’ve recently gotten braces, you might have noticed it’s much harder to floss and brush.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Juggling all the pieces of your health is hard...

But I can definitely help with what's going on in your mouth. Leave your email address below, and I'll share 7 Insider Secrets that your dentist probably isn't telling you—and that could be keeping you from optimal oral and dental health.

Dr. Mark Burhenne DDS

21 Comments

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  1. Yes I agree, it’s hard to brush the teeth once having braces I felt like my teeth still not clean.

  2. Thanks for posting! I’ve never had cavities growing up, and now I’m suddenly having multiple cavities every year when I would go to the dentist. I’m glad that you pointed out that dry mouth could be the cause of cavities. I haven’t started a new exercise routine, but I haven’t been drinking as much water as I usually do for some reason. It seems like I should start drinking more water from now on and maybe I won’t get anymore cavities.

    • Deanna, it’s awesome that you’re already thinking about and asking yourself, what has changed in my lifestyle recently? It can be tough to deduce sometimes, but sounds to me like you’re on the right track 🙂 – Dr. B

  3. Could hormonal changes be a reason as well? They can change the saliva or acidity, correct? I have been pregnant &/or nursing for over 3 years and I can’t seem to avoid cavities despite my best efforts. It’s causing me a lot of concern.
    Could a poorly done filling also leave ridges that would be the perfect spot for cavities to start? I think I experienced dental fraud & got some pretty terribly done fillings that have since started getting cavities around them.

    Thanks for your time!

    • Sandra, good question. Hormonal changes usually affect the gums, as you are no doubt aware of. But, it’s possible that the hormonal changes can impact the microbiome in the mouth. However, from a more practical standpoint, from what I’ve seen in the last 30 years, is that the diet of a pregnant and breastfeeding woman tends to change towards the fermentable carbohydrates and obviously, you have less time overall, so more cavity-causing prepared foods are consumed more often. As for the poorly done filling, you’re right — it can accelerate the reoccurrence of decay because it harbors bacteria in a way that normal hygiene practices cannot prevent.

  4. I am so glad to see your post. I am 33 years old and have NEVER had a single cavity in my entire life until this year. I take good care of my teeth. Immaculate dental check-ups. My dentist was in awe. He had never seen someone get to my age without any dental work aside from routine cleanings. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, I have a mouth full of cavities. It was major shock to both my dentist and myself. The only thing I can think of that has changed has been my job. With this new job my eating habits have plummeted. I am so busy throughout the day I barely get a free minute to eat or drink anything of substance. Instead I reach for a quick snack from the vending machine that I can eat without stopping. Usually something sugary. And an occasional soda. I do not really like soda, but i dislike coffee even more, and working late into the night at times leaves me lacking for energy. So I have reached for a coke once or twice to get me through. And I know that I am not drinking enough in general. So dehydration could also be playing a part. I’ve noticed my mouth is dryer. I never realized that such simple changes could make such a big impact on my teeth. It never even occurred to me this could happen. I actually cried. But I will definitely be making a greater effort to watch what I’m eating and drink more water through the day. It’s very upsetting.

    • I am 22 year old and before 20 never had a cavities,except 2-3 not big . After that i begin a new study in National Academy of Arts after check up last year i received 7 cavities (some of them big).And did not take problem enough seriously.Now i received new 9 and maybe more after i received extreme stress, sleepless and changing my diet,not very regular cleaning once a day and than eating in midnight i also eat sugary thinks to receive energy due to my lack of energy with my psychological issues with insomnia.I hate to do things toward my health.I don’t smoke, never use a drug entire my life, but i was uneducated for dental health. Now i ruined my teeth. I have obsession fear of dental problems pain, i dislike dentist visits and i wish i could have normal healthy tooth and live like other but there is not turning back. That you could do if you know information above is to inform your friend and collages and family and pushing people with bad dental care to change that thing. I learned some kids to floss and basic care for their own tooth. I also have a friend who don’t clean his teeth and ? made him to start do it and go to dentist.He never go to dentist since 10 years.He is luck, unlike me he have small issues. I will do everything to prevent this nightmare for my friends and other people .Don’t hold this information here.

  5. Hello Dr.,
    I’m about to turn 25 and can’t seem to keep my teeth clean anymore.
    Dentist always told me I had great teeth growing up.
    I’ve had one cavity filled when I was 20 or 21. Not too far after that I moved to another state.
    which was terrifying since everyone would tell me how terrible it was to go to the dentist, I never had that view. My dentist was great! Would never hurt.
    Since then I have not returned to the dentist in fear, but still brush, floss, and use mouthwash.
    I’m no dentist but when I look at my teeth I notice little specks (newest yet a speck on the side of a tooth) , and on one tooth in the back, the crevices always seem to be dark. Now I know I have to go see a dentist, no doubt, but should I be as worried as I am? Could my teeth really be getting that bad that quickly?

  6. Another very important factor is leaky guy. If minerals aren’t being absorbed during digestion the teeth will suffer.
    Also Hyperparathyroidism leaches calcium from teeth.

  7. I bet she’s taking melatonin because she’s stressed and isn’t get enough sleep. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system or the “fight or flight” response. That causes dry mouth as the article points out. Saliva (sal prefix indicates it got its name due to its salt or electrolyte content) helps protect teeth from bacterial decay. So, any smart, salt of the earth person who’s worth their salt will use a portion of their salary to take care of their oral hygiene and identify sources of Chronic physical and psychological stress. Stress is like negative energy that gets stuck. You hear terms like “be present” when you talk to mediators. Resolve the issues of your past. We are 70% water. Stay in the “current”and go with the flow. Avoid the sweets and go for the salty. Haha

    • I fear you might have confused cause and effect, Doug. The causality arrow does not necessarily point to Obama, so your headline is unsupported by the evidence in the article.(It do;8e&#s217nt point *away* either, but it’s just data.)I think we can agree that the electorate is more polarized now than ever, but I would hypothesize other factors. I think the trendline has been moving this way since the 1980s.

  8. After I caught a respiratory virus (most likely coxsackievirus B4, by my viral blood tests) which triggered a number of health problems in me, I noticed that I suddenly developed receding gums (periodontal disease). Prior to catching that virus, my gums had always been pink and healthy.

    As this coxsackievirus spread to friends and family, it also caused several of these people to developed sudden onset periodontal disease (quite a few people commented that their gums suddenly went downhill).

    I am not sure exactly of the mechanism by which coxsackievirus B could cause periodontitis, but my guess is that it may involve the connective tissue destroying enzyme MMP-9, which has shown to be elevated in coxsackievirus B infections.

    Note that in chronic infections, coxsackievirus B is hard to detect, and usually it is only plaque reduction neutralization blood test that it sensitive enough to reveal these infections.

  9. I’m starting to feel my tooth pain right now and its my first time to experience it. I’m having a hard time to choke my food even my saliva.

  10. Can a overian cyst cause tooth decay hii i am 37 i do smoke like a few post up i work so much Early moring till 12 pm i am always so busy i grab anything to eat drink anything just for a pick up never a tooth problem my teethed looked great no bleeding pink gums now with in a few weeks my teeth are getting cavitys and my mouth hurts and my gums seem to be fading wat the heck can cause that please the dentist is taking for ever to call me back for apointment mm ps. I clinch my teeth a lot wat do i do to stop this

  11. I have had lots of dental work over the last 5 months , not got good teeth but tried to take good care with cleaning and visiting dentist frequently .
    Lost 2 teeth which were in very poor state 12 years ago , damaged route canal and failed apesectomy , tooth very damaged .Sonce that I am having five root canals .my anxiety is so bad through shock of my teeth causing so many problems .
    Always at the dentist and my jaw gets sore and everything else being carried out is so depressing .My dentist sympathises and trying to do his best .I can’t see any end it .seems in heard of …
    Don’t fear dentist just the never ending of one thing after another
    I am 57 .

  12. Is it possible that brushing at all could be the culprit? I seem to get more cavities when I start following a dental hygiene regimen and brush regularly- but when I only brush once every couple weeks, I don’t seem to get any for years at a time.

  13. This happened with me. I got 2 cavities when I was pregnant. Sometimes it was hard to brush all the time because I was throwing up all day. Then at the end when I felt better about 7 months I ate a TON of sugar cause that’s what I craved was chocolate . I ended up going for a cleaning and they found 2 cavities. Never again will I do that.

  14. Thanks for sharing thus great information.I am 27 years old and never had a cavity in my life then went I went to the dentist i had several different ones.But after reading your post i realized what caused my cavities and it was me drinking sports drinks and soda alot often because i have been under alot of stress lately.Then on top of that i was not flossing because i hated the way it felt.So from now on am drink more water and work on not drinking soda or sport drinks at all.Along with flossing and brushing my teeth twice a day.

  15. Thank you for posting. This link had nothing to do with my question I asked goggle. But in a way it helped. I just got over the flu and have extra stress. Thank you again.

  16. So frustrated. Went over 30 years without a single cavity and this past year had 7 filled and they tell me I have one more to fill plus a bunch of watches. I do think they were too ambitious in calling a few stains cavities and I got a second opinion on those ones but most were in between teeth. I am completely shocked as I am a stickler for brushing and flossing. Was on a medicine that did make some of my vitamins and minerals low so I think this caused the majority of it. I am off the medicine but my teeth are still sensitive. I just want to cry. The fillings have really aggravated my TMJ because my bite is not 100% and the dentist adjusted my bite a bunch of times and even shaved a tiny amount of enamel which I don’t want done. I can’t sleep because every time I lay down my teeth hit wrong. I feel so upset.

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