Oh, the dreaded cavity! I don’t know about you, but at the end of every dental visit, I hope and pray that my dentist will assure me that my teeth are free of cavities. Luckily, it is easy to prevent cavities with basic oral hygiene and good sense. Although it’s true that some people are more prone to tooth decay than others, you can avoid the development of cavities with brushing, flossing, and visits to your dentist. To keep your teeth healthy and free of decay, talk to your dentist about preventing cavities and use the tips below.
A cavity develops when a tooth is frequently exposed to acid, which forms when the bacteria in your mouth interacts with sugars, starches, and carbohydrates. Over time, this repeated exposure to acid will cause the enamel to lose minerals. At this point you can still reverse the damage by caring for your teeth and allowing the enamel to repair itself. However, if this process of acid exposure continues and more minerals are lost, the acid will weaken and destroy the enamel, forming a cavity.
Additionally, as we mentioned above, some people are more prone to cavities than others. For example, the shape of a tooth can affect the likelihood of decay (deep grooves are more susceptible to damage), as can the viscosity of saliva, a person’s diet, a person’s preference for sweets, the hardness (or softness) of enamel, and a person’s microbiome (the communities of bacteria living in the body).
Unfortunately, a cavity’s damage is permanent, and your dentist will need to repair the destruction with a filling. Symptoms of a cavity include a toothache, sensitivity to hot or cold foods/drinks, and pain when chewing. Fortunately, preventing cavities is simple if you can establish a regular routine of good oral hygiene habits. Who doesn’t have ten minutes to spare for brushing and flossing each day? If you want to keep your teeth healthy and avoid dental decay, follow this advice:
Oral Hygiene Tips
You know how to brush your teeth, but let’s review the basics (just in case!). First, select the right tools. Be sure to use fluoride toothpaste, and replace your toothbrush when its bristles become worn. As you brush, tilt your toothbrush to a 45° angle and use gentle strokes. Take your time and be sure to brush every tooth thoroughly, taking care not to miss those hard-to-reach areas. This should take about two minutes in total (consider using a timer to be sure that you’re brushing effectively). Finally, don’t forget to brush your tongue to remove bacteria and keep your breath smelling fresh. Ideally, you should brush your teeth after every meal, but twice a day is sufficient (brushing once in the morning and once at night).
Brushing simply isn’t enough if you want to keep your teeth clean and free of decay. Luckily, flossing only takes a minute or two. Flossing will help you remove the little particles between your teeth that remain even after brushing. Use a clean segment of floss as you move from tooth to tooth, and gently slide the floss between the teeth in a zigzag motion. Be sure to reach both sides of the teeth as well. Floss once a day, as recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA).
Mouthwash should never be used in place of brushing or flossing, but it can provide additional protection for your teeth. Use a fluoride mouthwash to rinse away any lingering bacteria after your usual oral hygiene routine. You might also consider using mouthwash throughout your day after meals to rinse your mouth and improve your breath. This is a quick way to wash away bits of food and drink between brushing and flossing.
WATCH YOUR DIET
As you surely know, sticky and sugary foods can damage teeth. Although you don’t have to banish your favorite candy from your diet, limit your intake and be sure to brush and floss carefully after eating sweets. When drinking sugary beverages, use a straw to minimize the damage the liquid can inflict on your teeth. In addition, try chewing sugarless gum. The ADA recommends this to increase your mouth’s saliva production, which can neutralize and wash away acids that remain on your teeth after eating.
Finally, some researchers believe that the protein casein, which is found in cheese, can help protect healthy teeth (the study was published in the May/June 2013 issue of General Dentistry, source). This doesn’t mean you should binge on cheese, but you might consider adding a modest amount to your diet to boost your calcium levels, increase your plaque pH, and re-mineralize your teeth.
VISIT YOUR DENTIST
Lastly, be sure to visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams. The hygienist will thoroughly clean your teeth, and the dentist will exam your mouth to look for signs of tooth decay. You may be urged to improve your brushing and flossing habits, or you may need to have a current cavity filled to prevent further damage.
However, it’s important to note that a filling is not a flawless replacement for your tooth’s lost enamel, and if a tooth contains too many fillings, it may need to be removed. For this reason, it is important that you focus on preventing cavities instead of assuming that your dentist can “fix” them. Prevention is easier, cheaper, and healthier than treatment.
If you have frequent cavities, your dentist may recommend dental sealants. During this treatment, your dentist will paint thin, plastic coatings onto the teeth to prevent bacteria from lingering in their nooks and grooves. The barrier will impede the formation of cavities. If you’re interested in sealants, ask your dentist for more information.
Finally, schedule your next appointment before you leave the dentist’s office so that you don’t forget!
See? Preventing cavities is simple. Simply brush and floss as usual, watch your diet, and visit your dentist regularly. If you invest a little time in your teeth now, you can prevent cavities in the future. Not only will this improve your oral health, but it will also save you money and reduce the likelihood that you will need dentures, implants, or crowns in the future. So do yourself a favor, and take good care of your teeth!
Looking for a new dentist? Contact Wilkinson Dental if you live in or near Springfield, Missouri. You can request an appointment online or give us a call at 417-882-8222. We look forward to hearing from you!