How to Prevent Tooth Decay
Did you know tooth decay is the most common disease worldwide, second only to an ordinary cold? But, unlike a cold, it will not go away on its own. Unless you get treatment for tooth decay, then at the very least you will develop a nasty and painful toothache, and in the worst case you could lose the tooth or could even develop a life-threatening infection. The good news is that with the right preventative care, tooth decay can be avoided, and we can help you here at McLoughlin Dental Care.
Understanding How Tooth Decay Begins
Your mouth is home to hundreds of species of bacteria, some of which are benign, but others are harmful. These bacteria form a sticky biofilm called plaque and which gradually builds up over your tooth surfaces during the day. Every time you eat something containing carbohydrates, these plaque bacteria utilize the leftovers as an energy source, creating acid as a by-product. As acidity increases in your mouth, it removes essential minerals from your tooth enamel, causing a process called demineralization. Your mouth remains more acidic for at least half an hour after eating, after which a process called remineralization occurs and where some of these minerals are redeposited into your tooth enamel, but not all!
Over time, repeated exposure to acid in the mouth can weaken your tooth enamel, eventually causing cavities, and it can also occur if you have a diet high in highly acidic foods. It’s why regular brushing and flossing is so important for your dental health because it removes most dental plaque, preventing it from building up, hardening into a substance called tartar or calculus, and increasing the damage to your tooth enamel. Now you know what causes tooth decay, you can take steps to prevent it.
Regular Professional Dental Care Is Essential for Preventing Cavities
Your regular dental checkups are essential for preventing cavities. During these visits our dentist Dr. Donald Nimz can carefully assess the condition of each tooth, checking it for any signs of lesions or tooth decay. The earlier we can detect any damage to your teeth the better! Sometimes topical applications of fluoride can help to re-harden tooth enamel, treating the first signs of tooth decay. Any small lesions and cavities can soon be filled, preventing further damage and protecting more of your natural tooth structure. Regular hygiene appointments are also crucial because during this appointment your teeth are professionally cleaned, removing all plaque and calculus and leaving your teeth feeling beautifully fresh, smooth and clean.
As part of your dental checkups, Dr. Nimz will assess your risk of tooth decay because some people are more prone than others. For example, if you have a condition called dry mouth where you don’t produce enough saliva, excess bacteria and food particles are less likely to be washed away, so your risk of tooth decay is higher. Identifying these risks helps us to provide the most appropriate treatment for you.
Other Treatments That Can Help Prevent Tooth Decay
If your risk is higher, we might recommend topical applications of fluoride which can be applied here in our dental office. We can also offer advice as to which fluoride toothpaste to use, and we might suggest you use an antimicrobial or fluoride mouthwash. When you brush your teeth, make sure you spit out excess toothpaste but don’t rinse your mouth afterward because this leaves a thin film of fluoride ions covering your tooth surfaces, offering just a bit more protection. Also, wait at least half an hour after eating before brushing your teeth, because as acidity levels normalize, your tooth enamel becomes harder. When you brush your teeth immediately after eating, your tooth enamel is softer and more easily damaged. Another thing that can help considerably is to look at your diet, and you might benefit from nutritional counseling.
How Diet Affects Your Risk of Cavities
These days many people lead busy lives and tend to snack on the go or just prefer eating smaller meals more frequently, but this can affect your teeth. Each time you snack or have a meal, the acidity levels in your mouth increase, as does your risk of cavities. It can be worth trying to eat fewer sugary or carbohydrate-rich snacks and instead include them as part of a main meal. If you do need something in between meals, then choose food that is a bit more tooth-friendly. For example, cheese is great for teeth because it’s packed with calcium and phosphorus and it helps to stimulate saliva production, and it is also an excellent way to end a meal! Other foods to choose are crunchy fruits and vegetables because these are quite fibrous which has a very slight scrubbing action on teeth, and they contain lots of water. Sugar-free yogurt and hummus are other good options.
Another thing to think about is your choice of beverages. Most people will be aware that sugar-laden sports drinks and sodas are bad for their dental health, but fruit juice is another culprit that seems healthy yet is packed with sugar. Ideally, eat fruit rather than drinking juice. Many people have switched to diet soda, but these are usually very acidic and are just as bad for your teeth. If you can, keep hydrated with plain water, and if you have children encourage them to drink water.
Lastly, if you do have a child then ask us about dental sealants. Dental sealants are best applied to a child’s newly erupted adult back teeth and are extremely effective in preventing tooth decay. These large teeth are used for chewing and have quite intricate surfaces containing lots of fissures and grooves that trap plaque and food debris. The grooves can be quite deep and tricky to clean, which is why these back teeth can often develop cavities. Dental sealants consist of a very thin layer of flowable plastic resin that is simply painted onto the tooth surfaces, protecting them against tooth decay. The sealant is virtually invisible and is very durable, and the process to apply dental sealants is entirely painless. However, dental sealants can only be applied to teeth that don’t have any cavities or fillings, which is why it’s better to have this treatment soon after your child’s adult back teeth emerge.
Tooth decay might be prevalent, but it’s not inevitable, and we have lots of strategies to help you and your family’s teeth remain strong and healthy.