Contrary to popular belief, people apparently develop cavities in their teeth at about the same pace throughout their lives, according to a new study.

An ongoing study involving nearly 800 elderly men found they continued to get two or three cavities every three years or so, which is about the same number that children get."Older people, contrary to what was popularly believed, do not have a decrease in new cavities that develop each year," said Dr. Howard Chauncey, associate chief of staff for resarch at the Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic in Boston, who heads the study. "The idea that adults don't get cavities, that's absolutely wrong."

Based on the findings, Chauncey recommended people continue to be diligent about taking care of their teeth throughout their lives, brushing regularly and using fluoride mouthwashes to reduce the chances they will develop cavities.

The findings also contradict predictions that as the population ages, there will be a decline in the need for dentists, Chauncey said of the study, which has not yet been published.

"Contrary to popular belief that there is going to be less of a need for filings, there's going to be an increased need," Chauncey said in an interview last week. "There's going to have to be more dentists."

Chauncey and his colleagues began conducting dental examinations every three years on about 1,220 men ages 25 to 75 who were in overall good health when the study began in 1968.

During the first 10 years of the study, the researchers found that most of the men were maintaining their teeth and not losing them as men tended to do in earlier generations.

But the researchers were surprised to find that at the same time they continued to develop dental caries, or cavities.

Chauncey, who is also a research professor in oral pathology at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, was in the process of evaluating the data from the second 10 years of the study, he said.