Tooth Decay: Can You Prevent It?
Tooth decay is damage to the structure, strength, and integrity of a tooth. The outer coating of the tooth can be affected (the enamel), or in addition, the next layer can be involved in the disease process (dentin) or even the internal portion of the tooth (pulp chamber) can be involved when the decay is advanced.
The foods we consume can create a perfect acidic environment, especially when we add “food fuel”, particularly sugars and fermentable carbohydrates, to attack the outer coating of the tooth, the enamel to start a dental cavity and tooth decay. If it is not treated early enough, it can lead to severe toothache, infection, and even tooth loss.
Causes of Tooth Decay
These factors can increase your risk of developing tooth decay:
Poor Oral Hygiene
Tooth decay occurs when the leftover foods in your mouth are not cleaned properly by brushing and flossing. These foods combine with decay-causing bacteria to form plaque (bacteria hanging out in a slime layer that sticks to the sides of your teeth), which will attack the tooth enamel, cause decalcification to these areas and eventually cavitate into the tooth causing a “cavity.”
Certain Foods and Drinks
Sugary and sticky foods and beverages, including cake, cookies, potato chips, ice cream, candies, and dried fruits, are more likely to cause tooth decay. They can remain on your teeth for a long time and contribute to plaque formation.
Acidic drinks are one of the worst additions to a diet that can also harm your teeth. The acidic drinks essentially wash against all areas of the teeth, dissolve the minerals that strengthen your teeth, which makes the tooth enamel wear away and cause decay. In fact, one gets a predictable pattern of decay being a soda drinker (or any other yummy energy drink, ETC.!). For instance, the decay in these instances are most usually between the teeth!
A lack of saliva is called a dry mouth. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by washing away foods and plaque from your mouth. A dry mouth needs serious attention to reverse or help this condition. Bacteria and plaque can cause serious and advanced issues in a dry mouth in just a short time, which can result in gross tooth decay.
Certain medical conditions, medications, and treatments, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs, can increase your risk of decay by reducing saliva production.
If you know you will be having radiation or chemotherapy, as your dental provider, we want to be notified, so we have a firm plan in place to combat these issues before they start!
How to Prevent Tooth Decay
Here are some tips for preventing tooth decay:
Brush twice a day (using a fluoridated toothpaste is best) is the minimum standard. It is good to brush your teeth after every snack or meal, which can help to keep your teeth clean and prevent plaque formation that leads to cavities.
Floss your teeth daily with an interdental cleaner or dental floss. Flossing helps clean the food particles that get stuck between your teeth and minimize the risk of developing cavities. Flossing DAILY is the minimum standard. If you are not going to floss (this situation is only acceptable with a dexterity issue), get a WaterPik, and use it daily.
Rinse Your Mouth
Rinsing your mouth daily with a fluoride-containing mouthwash can help combat tooth decay. This helps in killing the bacteria that cause plaque and also keeps your mouth clean and fresh.
Use Dental Sealants for Molars and Premolars
The biting surfaces of the back teeth (molars and premolars) are susceptible to decay, as they have a lot of grooves and pits, which can easily collect the food particles and contribute to plaque formation.
A dental sealant is a protective plastic coating applied to the chewing surface of the back teeth. It can seal the pits and grooves, protecting your teeth from plaque formation. Consult with us about getting dental sealants. Only a dental provider can place sealants, including a dentist, dental hygienist, or an advanced trained dental assistant.
Avoid Frequent Snacking and Limit the Intake of Sugary Foods and Beverages
Frequent snacking causes the pH level in your mouth to become more acidic, which is the environment that bacteria need to produce more damage to destroy the tooth enamel and create cavities.
Sugary foods and drinks promote plaque formation, which causes tooth decay. It is good to brush your teeth after consuming sugary foods and drinks. When you eat all your yummy snacks and desserts, do so at mealtime to avoid an extra acidic assault to your teeth.
Eat Tooth-Friendly Foods
Avoid sticky and chewy foods, as they can promote tooth decay, or, again, do so at mealtime. You can eat foods that can increase your saliva production, including fresh vegetables and fruits, sugar-free gum, and unsweetened tea and coffee. (Coffee and tea can be acidic; by not adding sugar, for instance, it limits adding “fuel” to the bacteria.)
Regular Dental Visits
Visit your dentist for routine examinations every 6 months. Cleanings are needed every 3, 4, or 6 months based on your probe scores and bleeding sites. Routine dental visits help prevent most tooth problems and at least help detect them early. If conditions are detected early, they can be treated in the easiest, most economical and comfortable way possible.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment for your routine care and hygiene visit!