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Preventive Dentistry: How to Prevent Cavities and Tooth Decay

Woman holding a large cupcake in hand and a large tooth in the other

Cavities and tooth decay affect almost everyone. In fact, tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in the United States, second only to the common cold, with cavities affecting a large percentage of U.S. children.

Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to keep your teeth and gums healthy and to prevent cavities and tooth decay. Read on to learn more about preventive dentistry and what you can do to care for your teeth and gums.

What Are Tooth Decay and Cavities?

Tooth decay occurs when your teeth are exposed to acid. The acid that can harm teeth and gums results from eating starchy or sugary foods. Even though foods may not contain a lot of acids initially, some of the normal bacteria in your mouth that help you digest those foods turn the carbohydrates into acid. The acid damages the enamel on your teeth.

If you don’t take steps to prevent tooth decay, your teeth will lose minerals and enamel, and cavities begin to form. A cavity is a hole in your tooth, caused as a result of extended tooth decay over time.

You may not experience any symptoms when tooth decay is in its early stages. Even a cavity may not make its presence known. If not stopped, however, tooth decay can result in tooth sensitivity and pain. Visible holes in the tooth or staining on teeth may occur. While our general dentist at Lexington Family Smiles can fill cavities to prevent further damage, there are steps you can take to stop tooth decay in its tracks.

Preventive Dentistry Tips to Fight Cavities and Tooth Decay

Take a look at these preventive dentistry tips that can help you prevent tooth decay and cavities.

1. Get a Dental Checkup Regularly

By visiting our dentist regularly, you get oral exams and teeth cleanings that can help spot and deal with cavities, tooth decay, and other dental issues. At your checkup, your dentist and dental hygienist will remove plaque and check for tooth decay. Ask our dentist how often you should come in.

2. Add Fluoride to Your Dental Routine

Fluoride is a powerful preventative treatment for tooth decay. You may get sufficient fluoride if the drinking water in your community is fluoridated. Your dentist can also provide you with prescription levels of fluoride, to be delivered via custom trays that fit on your teeth, if you need it.

3. Use an Antibacterial Mouth Rinse

Those who are especially susceptible to tooth decay, possibly because of other medical conditions, may want to add antibacterial treatments, such as mouth rinses, to keep harmful bacteria at bay. Ask your dentist what treatment they would recommend.

4. Brush Your Teeth Regularly (With the Right Brush)

Brushing your teeth regularly is one of the most effective steps you can take to protect your teeth against decay. Use a soft-bristled brush to protect your gums — and don’t forget to brush your gums and your tongue as well as your teeth.

Brush after every time you eat and brush again before you go to bed, using toothpaste that contains fluoride. Make sure you brush the inside surfaces of the teeth as well as the parts that are visible when you smile. You should plan on replacing your toothbrush every few months.

5. Don’t Forget to Floss

Your toothbrush can’t get to all the tiny crevices between your teeth and gums. That’s where flossing comes in. Your general dentist can demonstrate the best way to floss for protection against tooth decay and gum infections.

6. Don’t Smoke

You already know that smoking is bad for your body in so many ways — and that includes your teeth. Yes, smoking stains your teeth, but it can also play a part in gum disease and tooth decay (not to mention oral cancer). Quit the use of all tobacco products to help protect your teeth.

7. Avoid Carbohydrates (or Brush After Eating Them)

Carbohydrates — both starchy ones such as pretzels and bread and sweet carbs such as candy and cookies — can leave behind remnants on your teeth. An added danger comes from fruit juices, which are packed with sugar.

If you don’t brush away the carbohydrate particles quickly, they’ll combine with your mouth’s natural bacteria to form the acid that causes tooth decay. Take a toothbrush with you to work to make sure you can brush whenever you need to.

8. Ask Your General Dentist About Dental Sealants

Your dentist can apply sealants, which are thin plastic coatings, on your teeth to protect them against bacteria and avoid developing cavities. Sealants are particularly useful for molars, which have lots of little crevices where food can get stuck. Acting as a barrier to keep food and bacteria from becoming trapped, sealants can be especially helpful for children or teenagers.

9. Eat Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Eating fresh veggies and fruits increases the flow of saliva, which helps wash away food particles. Drinking plenty of water and unsweetened beverages also help in this process — and if your tap water is fluoridated, you get extra protection.

10. Avoid Acidic Beverages

That morning cup of coffee, your afternoon tea, or the latte you pick up to give yourself a boost during the day are all problematic for your teeth. Coffee and tea are both filled with acid — and if you add sugar or milk to your drink, you end up compounding the problems. Don’t worry — you can still enjoy your coffee. But follow it up with a chaser of water to rinse the acid from your mouth, or brush your teeth once again after you finish your morning joe.

11. Use Mouthwash

Another way to get the fluoride that helps prevent tooth decay is to rinse your mouth each day with a mouthwash that contains fluoride. Many types of mouthwash also contain antiseptic elements, which fight the bacteria that help cause plaque and tooth decay.

12. Don’t Eat After Your Bedtime Tooth Brushing

While you sleep, your flow of saliva decreases. That means that any fragments of food or acid clinging to your teeth are unlikely to be washed away overnight. If you do end up indulging in a late-night snack or wandering into the kitchen if you can’t sleep, make sure to brush your teeth one more time before hitting the pillow again.

Visiting your general dentist, brushing and flossing regularly, and getting regular dental checkups are all key to preventing tooth decay and cavities. If you would like a dentist to examine your teeth for decay, call or schedule an appointment.