As a dentist, the most common question I get from patients is: How can I protect my teeth from getting cavities? Unfortunately, there is not one specific way – you have to take several steps to help your teeth from decay.
Before I give you these tips, let’s start with a little background information that will explain why these suggestions will help. A cavity forms in our mouths when the outside layer of your tooth (enamel) is penetrated by a combination of bacteria and its byproduct, acid. A bacteria called S. Mutans breaks down the food in your mouth and turns that food into acid, which is very strong and can literally form holes in your teeth. Dental decay is the most common childhood disease and toothaches are the leading reason for children to miss school.
Now that we know how cavities form, let’s look at 8 specific tips for prevention:
Why is brushing your teeth so important?
First, by brushing your teeth, you are physically removing the residual food particles that were not swallowed while you were eating. If your mouth is clean, the bacteria has nothing to breakdown; therefore, it cannot produce acid that causes cavities. If you do a poor job brushing or don’t brush at all, the bacteria have a feast in your mouth and breakdown the food particles into acid, which creates cavities.
The second reason for brushing your teeth is to physically remove the bacteria from your mouth. Bacteria in your mouth like to build shelters for protection, this shelter is called Plaque. Plaque is the whitish film that forms on your teeth. By physically removing the plaque on your teeth, you are removing the bacteria and helping to avoid cavities.
Now, to avoid getting cavities, every tooth needs to be free of plaque and food. So brushing your teeth is not a 30 second process. You need to devote about 2 minutes to brushing your teeth making sure every nook and cranny is clean. The bacteria can also live on the surface of your tongue, so make sure to brush your tongue as well.
There are 5 surfaces to every tooth. Only three of those surfaces can be cleaned with a toothbrush. The other two surfaces are between your teeth. It is impossible to clean the surfaces between your teeth with a toothbrush. So if you are not flossing, you are leaving a huge amount of bacteria and food in your mouth that will cause cavities to form between your teeth.
Look at it this way- if you don’t floss, you don’t clean 40% of the tooth’s surface area.
It does not matter what type of floss you use. It is just important that you use it correctly and remove the pesky plaque between your teeth.
What is fluoride, how does it work and where can I find it? These are the three most common questions I get regarding fluoride.
First, Fluoride is found naturally in the earth. It can also be manufactured by pharmaceutical companies and put in many common dental products.
Fluoride can help prevent cavities from forming in several different ways. The first way is by protecting your teeth. When fluoride is applied to your teeth, it chemically combines with your teeth to form a stronger, more impenetrable tooth; therefore, making it more resistant to cavities. The second way that fluoride works is by acting on the bacteria. The fluoride is poisonous to the bacteria and prevents it from digesting the sugars in your mouth. If the bacteria cannot process the food and sugars you leave in your mouth, they don’t create the byproducts that cause cavities. Fluoride is an essential tool in cavity prevention.
Lastly, where does one find fluoride? Well, if you live in Huntington Beach or the surrounding areas of Southern California, you don’t have look for it, it comes to you. Fluoride is found in our tap water. The water department regularly monitors the level of fluoride in the water to make sure it’s at the optimal level to help prevent tooth decay. However, the fluoride in tap water is not enough to prevent tooth decay for most people. The majority of people need another source of fluoride. It can be found in almost any type of toothpaste. It can be found in mouthwashes like Act. It’s even in gels that are administered and prescribed at dental offices. Whichever way you use it, it will help in the prevention on tooth decay.
4. Taking care of family members teeth
What happens when a family member comes down with a cold or the flu? Most of the times they pass it on to their loved ones. Why does this happen? It happens because we pass the germs, bacteria, and viruses to each other through some type of physical contact. Unfortunately, the same thing happens with the cause of tooth decay. The bacteria, S. Mutans, gets passed on – it can happen by sharing food utensils, kissing, sharing drinks or anything where saliva is passed between individuals. Therefore, to help protect the family from getting cavities, it is important that every member of your family takes care of their teeth.
This one is fairly straightforward and simple. Your diet has a huge impact on the number of cavities that you get. A diet higher is sugar gives the bacteria in your mouth more food to eat. The more food the bacteria has to eat, the more acid it produces, and this eventually causes more cavities to form.
If you are also eating really sticky, chewy candy, the candy sticks to your teeth. The longer it stays in your mouth, the longer the bacteria create acid, and this directly leads to cavities. So by avoiding foods like taffy, gummy bears, and Swedish fish, your teeth have a better chance of staying healthy.
6. Seeing a dentist regularly for cleaning
If plaque stays on your teeth for an extended period of time, it calcifies and forms an extremely hard layer called Calculus. Calculus is a bacteria’s version of a well built home. Just like a well built home, calculus can protect the bacteria from a lot of harsh natural conditions. With this protection, the bacteria can then multiple and create more cavities in your mouth. Brushing your teeth cannot remove the calculus. It is too tough and hard for a toothbrush to remove. The only thing that can remove the calculus is a proper dental cleaning. A dentist and dental hygienist are trained to use specialized equipment that can destroy and remove the dental calculus. We have ultrasonic instruments that vibrate at over 300 thousand vibrations per second to remove the calculus and return your teeth to a healthy state.
The chewing surfaces on your teeth are composed of thousands of microscopic spaces that a single toothbrush bristle cannot get into and clean. Without being able to cleaning these tiny spaces, the areas become prone to forming cavities. With advances in dental technology, dentists are now able to flow a liquid into these small spaces and chemically harden it with a special blue curing light. This process is called “sealing” your teeth.
This process requires no drilling and is completely painless. With these microscopic spaces covered, bacteria cannot get into these areas of the tooth and a cavity is avoided.
8. Chew Sugarless gum
Saliva is extremely important in the prevention of cavities. Within saliva, there are lots of chemicals and enzymes that our bodies naturally produce; these components help fight tooth decay. They help kill the bacteria in our mouths and help neutralize the acid that the bacteria produce. By chewing sugarless gum, our bodies naturally create more saliva, which in turn, protects you teeth. If you are unable to brush your teeth after a meal, the next best thing is to chew gum. The saliva creates a good defense system and helps prevent cavities from forming.
I hope you found these tips helpful, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like further insight on any of the tips above. You can email me at email@example.com or visit our website, where you will find practical dental health information.
Dr. Jonathan H. Ford
Ford Dental Group
16511 Goldenwest St
Huntington Beach, CA 92647