Are cavities preventable?
Cavities are a preventable disease
A little known and alarming fact is that tooth decay is on the rise and is the #1 disease affecting children. Of great interest is that cavities are 100% preventable. While there are some genetic components that affect tooth decay, the primary factor in preventing cavities is attributed to the impact of dietary habits. Tooth decay is a 100% preventable disease, but the largest problem we face is in changing behaviors and in education on the importance of establishing proper habits that encourage good oral health in the home.
Most of us are aware of the risk of cavities have, but its important to stress that cavities impact not only our oral health, but also our overall health. Most people don’t realize that tooth decay makes a child more vulnerable to life-threatening infections in other parts of the body, such as the ears, sinuses and brain. Cavities may be one of the few maladies we consistently get warned about as kids, “Brush your teeth, or you’ll get cavities!” But, according to the American Dental Association, more than one in five Americans have untreated cavities, so we believe in in the importance of helping to educate our patients and the public with an understanding of how cavities form and the fact that cavities can be prevented with the proper habits.
How cavities are formed
When foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as breads, cereals, soda, milk, fruits, pastries or candy, sit on your teeth or get stuck in between, bacteria that naturally live in your mouth, feeds on the carbs, turning them into acids. The acids, bacteria, food debris and saliva combine to create plaque, which hangs onto the teeth, while the acids attack the enamel surface, creating holes called cavities.
Cavities can also strike if you have receding gums that expose the root of the tooth, or dry mouth, which occurs when you don’t have enough acid-neutralizing saliva protecting your teeth.
Once you get a cavity, it will not go away on its own, and dentists will repair it with a filling. You can however, absolutely prevent and even reverse tooth decay to keep cavities from developing in the first place.
According to the American Dental Association, more than one in five Americans have untreated cavities, so perhaps we can assume that most people don’t have more than a cursory understanding of how cavities form, and how to prevent them.
Prevention of cavities
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride. Every time you skip a brush, any buildup of bacteria get worse, something that can be eliminated with an easy, two-minute brush.
- Dentists will also tell you that the most important time to brush your teeth is before bed. At night, your saliva, which is your body’s defense against bacteria, naturally decreases while you sleep.
- Brush after each meal, unless you have eaten or drunk something acidic, as the acid weakens the tooth enamel, and brushing too soon can damage your teeth. If you know you are going to have some acidic, brush beforehand.
- Floss regularly to get rid of the acid-developing food in between your teeth that your toothbrush can’t reach. Many people find that flossers, or floss picks, make the job easier, versus wrapping a strand of floss around your fingers. If you are a good flosser, the traditional floss technique is far better and more effective on your mouth, but if you find that you are avoiding flossing, picks are a better alternative than nothing at all. Use one with a disposable flossing head (vs. the ones that are entirely disposable) to reduce your carban footprint. IT also can be easier to get children in a good flossing habit with child-sized flossers that usually come in animal shapes or bright colors. Another option that makes flossing even easier and even a bit more fun is a water flosser, though it does come with a price tag.
- Eat nutritious and balanced meals, especially calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt and dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, bok choy and broccoli, and remember that carb snacks, such as pretzels, chips and bread are equal plaque offenders compared to their candy friends, since they tend to get gummy and cling to your teeth longer.
- Chew sugar-free gums with xylitol, as studies have shown that it can inhibit the growth of the bacteria that cause cavities
- Drink water. Not only does the water help rinse your mouth of stuck food debris that can turn into plaque, but almost all US cities have cavity-preventing fluoride in their public water systems.
- Talk to you dentist about sealants, which are painted onto the surface of your back teeth, called molars. Besides being hard to reach with a tooth brush, molars and have small pits and grooves, making them a breeding ground for bacteria to get stuck. Sealants cover molars and form a barrier that protects teeth from cavities.
- Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams.
At the end of the day, even if you are a careful eater, brusher and flosser, plaque is simply a tough, sticky residue to get rid of completely from all the nooks and crannies of your mouth, especially because you can’t see them. Regular cleanings are absolutely necessary, and the more you wait between them, the tougher and longer they will be!
Posted In: Oral & Dental Health Tips