Are cavities preventable?

A little known and alarming fact is cavities are a preventable disease and in fact tooth decay is on the rise and is the #1 disease affecting children. However, tooth decay (known as 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 that cavities have a negative effect on our oral health, but they can also impact 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. While cavities may be one of the few maladies we’re consistently warned about as kids, according to the American Dental Association, more than one in five Americans have untreated cavities. The largest problem we face in preventing tooth decay is changing behaviors to encourage good oral health and educating our patients and the public on how cavities form and can be prevented.

How cavities are formed

The bacteria that causes tooth decay is activated by carbohydrates (which are made up of sugars and starches). When you eat foods containing high levels of carbohydrates (such as breads, cereals, soda, milk, fruits, pastries or candy) the bacteria in your mouth create acid, which mixes with other bacteria, food debris and saliva to create plaque. Plaque hangs on to the teeth while the acids attack the enamel surface, creating holes called cavities.

Cavities can also form 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 a dentist will need to repair it with a filling. However, you can 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. Each brushing lasts only two minutes and keeps harmful bacteria and acid off your teeth. When you skip brushing, the buildup of bacteria gets worse, which can lead to cavities.
    • The most important time to brush your teeth is right before bed. At night, your saliva, which is your body’s defense against bacteria, naturally decreases while you sleep. Going to bed with a clean mouth ensures bacteria doesn’t build up too much while you’re asleep.
    • Don’t brush your teeth after eating or drinking something acidic. Since acid weakens the tooth enamel, brushing too soon can damage your teeth. If you know you are going to have something acidic, brush beforehand or wait at least 30 minutes after your meal to brush again.
    • Floss regularly to get rid of the food and bacteria hiding between your teeth. To establish this habit, many people find that flossers, or floss picks, make the job easier. Although the traditional floss technique is far better and more effective, flossers or floss picks are better than not flossing at all. Use one with a disposable flossing head (vs. the ones that are entirely disposable) to reduce your carbon footprint. It also can be easier to get children in a good flossing habit with child-sized flossers, which 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. Include calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt, and add in a healthy amount of dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, bok choy and broccoli. Limit your intake of high-carb snacks like pretzels, chips, and bread; they can cause just as much plaque as candy and can cling to your teeth long after you finish eating.
    • Chew sugar-free gums with xylitol, as studies have shown that it can inhibit the growth of the bacteria that causes cavities.
    • Drink water. Not only does the water help remove 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. These teeth, called molars, are hard to reach with a toothbrush and have small pits and grooves, making them a breeding ground for bacteria. Sealants cover molars and form a barrier that protects teeth from cavities.

At the end of the day, even if you are a careful eater and practice daily brushing and flossing, plaque is simply a tough, sticky residue that’s difficult to get rid of. Since you can’t see all the nooks and crannies where plaque likes to hide, regular cleanings are absolutely necessary for good oral health. The longer you wait between each visit, the tougher and longer your cleaning will be!

Posted In: Oral & Dental Health Tips