In this article, we highlight 3 simple preventative measures you can take today to prevent cavities and tooth decay and keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Cavities, also known as tooth decay, is the destruction of the tooth’s enamel and its layer underneath, dentin. The mouth is filled with bacteria that form a clear, sticky film over the teeth called plaque. Plaque is produced when bacteria, acid, food and saliva combine.
When you eat carbohydrates, particularly sugary and starchy food and drink, bacteria in plaque turn the carbohydrates into the energy they need, producing acid in the process. If plaque is not brushed off properly, it builds up and the acid from plaque eats away and erodes the tooth, causing holes, or cavities.
Once the acid has dissolved the enamel, it makes its way to the next layer of the tooth, dentin. Dentin is softer and dissolves easier and faster as is less resistant to acid. Without treatment, bacteria can enter the tooth’s pulp which contains its nerves and vessels, causing further damage.
Symptoms of tooth decay include:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Pain when chewing and eating
- Hole or pit in the tooth
- Damaged teeth
- Swelling gums
- Grey, brown, or black spots on teeth
- Bad breath
- Bad taste in the mouth
However, tooth decay is entirely preventable with a few simple steps. Follow these 3 ways to prevent cavities and keep teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
1. Brush Your Teeth
Tooth decay is a result of poor brushing and oral hygiene habits which allows plaque to build up and acid to attack the teeth. When food debris is not completely removed, it remains on your teeth, allowing more acid to be produced and weaken your enamel. The key here is to remove acid-producing sugars and starches from the mouth to prevent enamel-damaging acid to form.
To prevent cavities, brush your teeth at least twice a day, preferably after meals and before bed to prevent bacteria lingering on teeth and keep them free of plaque. If you don’t clean your teeth properly, they are vulnerable to plaque formation.
Use a fluoride toothpaste as it helps prevent decay and cavities. Use an electric toothbrush, ensuring to cover all surfaces including the inner, outer, and chewing surfaces and the tongue. Pay special attention to the back teeth as it is more common to get cavities on these back molars as their many grooves and crannies make them difficult to clean.
Use floss or an interdental cleaner in between the teeth after meals daily to remove debris which can lead to plaque buildup and erosion. To complete your routine, use fluoride and antimicrobial mouthwash daily to wash away plaque and sugary residue that sticks to teeth and kill the bacteria that leads to plaque formation.
2. Improve Your Diet
Tooth decay occurs when foods containing carbohydrates, such as sugar and starch, are left on the teeth. Cavities form when plaque and bacteria use sugar and starch to produce acid. This acid then eats the enamel.
Every time you eat or drink, you give mouth bacteria fuel it needs to produce acids that can attack and destroy enamel. Therefore, to prevent tooth decay, it is important to cut down on sugary and starchy foods.
Avoid carbohydrates, sugary and starchy foods and sticky foods that cling to the tooth surface as these help plaque-forming bacteria survive in the mouth and leaves cavity-causing acids on the teeth.
Cut down on these foods and drinks including soda, cakes, candy, crisps, energy drinks, juice, and sweets. Limit frequent snacking as this leaves your mouth constantly under attack from acid-producing foods without the chance to recover.
Choose tooth-healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables and focus on eating nutritious, balanced meals. Drink water over soda as fluoridated water in tap water also helps prevent decay. Rinse the mouth with water after eating and drinking to prevent sugar from staying in saliva and prevent plaque forming.
3. Visit Your Dentist
Visit your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. This is vital to spot any issues early and prevent a cavity forming and stop it from worsening into a more serious problem. You should see a dentist as soon as possible if you are experiencing any pain or sensitivity as your dentist can examine your mouth and check for cavities and treat decay.
Your dentist will identify tooth decay using an x-ray and determine the best course of treatment. They can perform a professional cleaning to remove plaque and tartar buildup to prevent decay. If you have a cavity, they can repair it and fill the hole with a filling or crown.
They may apply a fluoride gel or varnish to protect the teeth, strengthen the enamel, and make it more resistant to acids from plaque. If decay has spread to the pulp, root canal may be required. If the tooth is damaged it will be removed. Your dentist can also provide you with expert brushing and flossing tips to prevent tooth decay in the future.
Your dentist may apply a dental sealant to your tooth, which is a thin, plastic, protective coating that is painted onto the back molars where cavities are most common as food and bacteria gets stuck in the pits and grooves and stays there as it is difficult to brush away. The sealant is applied to the chewing surface and acts as a barrier which protects the teeth from bacteria and decay.