Tooth decay is one of the most common human diseases, second only to the common cold! Without effective treatment tooth decay can lead to pain, tooth loss, and sometimes even worse illnesses. Thankfully, tooth decay is highly preventable.
There is no single “magic bullet” to stop tooth decay, but using a combination of preventive techniques can keep tooth decay at bay. At the most basic level, a consistent routine of brushing and flossing your teeth at home combined with regular cleanings at a dentist’s office can help prevent decay. But that’s just the beginning of the prevention process.
How does decay start?
We think of the mouth as a dynamically balanced ecosystem, in which living organisms, including helpful and harmful bacteria, are constantly interacting. When conditions are right — namely, in the presence of certain sugars — some pathogenic (harmful) bacteria produce acids that cause teeth to lose minerals and begin breaking down. Even a diet having excessive acidic foods can influence demineralization of your teeth. But in more favorable conditions, the damage these pathogens do is undone by the body’s own healing mechanisms — which includes your healthy saliva.
goal in decay prevention is to tip the balance in favor of the beneficial processes. Keeping up a regular habit of brushing and flossing, getting adequate fluoride, and a diet with limited acidic foods is certainly helpful. Yet even with these measures, some individuals will be more prone to tooth decay than others, and may need extra help and guidance.
Preventing tooth decay
Visiting your dental team
Visiting your dental team regularly, as often as they recommend, can help you manage your oral health, including how to prevent tooth decay.
This is because your dental team can spot tooth decay in the early stages and treat the condition before it has a chance to worsen. Without this intervention, a cavity will need a filling, or in more severe cases, the tooth removed entirely.
They can also help you with advice and information to help you care for your mouth at home. They can show you correct cleaning techniques, advise you on what products to use, and give guidance about how your diet and lifestyle may be affecting your oral health.
Fluoride is a mineral that can be naturally found in many foods and in all drinking water. The amount of fluoride in water varies from area to area.
Fluoride can greatly help dental health by strengthening the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to tooth decay. Most of our fluoride, however, is found in toothpaste. When buying toothpaste, make sure it contains fluoride.
Sometimes, your dental team might choose to give you a prescription for a toothpaste that contains higher levels of fluoride. They may do this if you have any of the signs associated with tooth decay or are at increased risk of tooth decay.
Know your cavity risk level
The first step in taking control of your oral health is knowing what your cavity risk level is. The best way to know this is through a comprehensive dental exam. With regular examinations, and discussion with your dentist, you will know where you stand, which treatments may be needed, as well as which changes in oral hygiene and diet may help. Once you know your risk level, then you take a more specific, effective approach to improving your oral health.
Another advantage of knowing your cavity risk level: it will also determine how often dental visits are needed. The lower your risk, the less often you should need dental visits. Find out and discuss your risk level with your dentist during regular dental exams.
Brush your teeth regularly, properly and with the right brush
This is the most obvious tip, and you’ve heard it since you were too small to ride the big rides. But, let us tell you why it’s so important for your oral health – and your overall health.
Bacteria in the mouth are little recycling machines. Did you know your mouth is actually home to about a billion microbes that are recycling what you eat and drink? That’s how they cause tooth decay in our mouths – by feeding on the sugars in the foods and drinks we consume to grow – then leaving behind the waste, in the form of a biofilm known as dental plaque. This plaque allows all those little recyclers to stick around your teeth longer, until eventually they make acids, which wear down the tooth enamel and cause cavities.
If left untreated, the eventual disease process that can start from bacteria in the mouth, can potentially spread to other areas of the body, which can complicate chronic conditions ranging from diabetes to heart disease.
Because of the huge bacteria and plaque fighting power it provides in just a few minutes a day, brushing your teeth is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways to prevent cavities. Be sure to brush after meals and before bed. Brushing before bed (after your late night snack) is particularly important because letting those bacteria linger on your teeth overnight can allow enamel damaging acid to form (ultimately leading to cavities).
Also, using an antimicrobial mouthwash helps to clean away the bacteria while freshening breath.
Want to add even more bacteria fighting power throughout the day? Try brushing after lunch at work. Keep a separate tooth brush and paste kit at work if possible to fill in those long gaps between morning and night.
Proper Brushing Techniques
The American Dental Association recommends the following for brushing your teeth:
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and apply gentle pressure, both of which may help reduce the risk of gingival injury.
- Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the gums. Move the brush back and forth gently in short (tooth-wide) strokes, brushing the outer inner and chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- Use the tip of the brush to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, using a gentle up-and-down stroke.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
- Don’t forget to replace your tooth brush at least every 3 or 4 months.
Cut back on sugary and acidic drinks — and drink more water
Need that morning latte, daily cup of coffee, or hot cup of tea? Prolonged exposure to teeth of acidic coffee or tea, compounded by added sugar or even just added milk can increase your risk for new cavities. Go ahead, enjoy your coffee! But try to keep it to 20 minutes or less, and rinse your mouth with water after.
The problem with sipping coffee with cavity causing additives such as sugar, syrups and cream is that the harmful sugars stay in your saliva over a long period of time. To counter this, drink some water along with other drinks to rinse your mouth and keep saliva from becoming too sugary and eating away at your teeth. Also, try sipping coffee from a straw which helps to keep those sugary liquids off your teeth and out of your saliva.
Drinking water with fluoride, is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do to help prevent cavities.
Water is unlike any other drink, and is by far the healthiest drink available. Our bodies are made of 60% water, and staying hydrated helps your system distribute healthy nutrients, gets rid of waste, gives your skin a healthy glow and keeps your muscles moving. And–drinking water really helps your teeth stay health – especially if it’s fluoridated.
Get into the habit of flossing
We know, no one like to floss. But think about it this way: our teeth have 5 sides, and all of them need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Even when we brush every day, we’re still only cleaning 3 of those sides. So, without flossing, you’re really only cleaning about half of your teeth surface with brushing alone.
And remember, flossing only takes a few minutes a day – what else can you do for just a few minutes that can improve your health so much?
So, how do you start the flossing habit? Think of it as ‘multi-tasking’, something we all love doing. Try flossing while watching TV, or while reading a book in bed. Ideally, you should floss soon after a meal, or before bedtime, as with brushing your tooth. However, flossing is actually easier and more convenient because you can do it on the go. It’s really just like any other healthy habit – the key is starting small, and developing a routine that sticks.
It is well known that smoking and tobacco use can cause many different medical problems. Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body.
However, most people don’t realize the harm that smoking and oral tobacco use pose to the mouth, gums and teeth. Smoking can do a lot more than just stain your teeth – this unhealthy habit can also lead to gum disease, tooth loss, and even oral cancer.
Educate Your Children About Oral Health
The more kids know about their teeth and gums, the more likely they are to want to care for them with proper oral hygiene. Watch fun and informative videos with your children and answer any questions they have about their dental health. Tell and show your little ones why teeth are important and give them a better understanding of why oral care is important. This will help when you ask them to brush their teeth in the morning and before bed!