How can you prevent tooth decay? Is it even possible or is everyone going to get a cavity eventually? Our dentists share their tips to prevent tooth decay and help keep your teeth free of cavities.
“Do I have a cavity?”
This is one of the most common questions we hear from patients. Cavity symptoms to watch for include: increased sensitivity to temperature, toothaches that don’t go away, and pain when chewing. But most cavities don’t present any symptoms at all. That’s why keeping up with regular check-ups is so important.
Genetics & biological factors
Your unique genetic makeup does affect the rate at which your teeth decay. However, your genetics are not the main factor behind cavities — the way you care for your teeth and body is much more closely tied to your risk of tooth decay.
That said, everyone’s mouth has a different population of bacteria and some people have more aggressive bacteria than others. But you can overcome these biological factors and prevent tooth decay.
The foods you eat and the beverages you enjoy play a huge factor in how likely you are to develop a cavity. Why do food and drink matter so much? Let’s look at how cavities form.
- Millions and millions of (mostly harmless) bacteria live in your mouth at any given time.
- These bacteria want to eat and they want to make more bacteria.
- Bacteria eat sugars and excrete acid.
- This acid eats away at the strong outer layer of your teeth, known as the enamel, leading to cavities.
Many people believe eating and drinking sugary foods like candy and soda are what causes cavities. This isn’t quite right. Just as important as what you eat is how often you eat. If you’re snacking all day long the bacteria will be snacking all day long, too. They’ll make your mouth more acidic and this will increase your chance of decay and cavities. It’s best to avoid snacking between meals to “starve” the bacteria.
What should you avoid?
There are foods which increase your risk of tooth decay when consumed frequently, including:
- Soda – Coke, Pepsi, and other sodas are TERRIBLE for your teeth and your overall health. Not only are they packed with sugar — a can of Coke has as much pure sugar as 2 full-size Snickers bars— but they’re very acidic as well. Just like the acid produced by bacteria, the acid in soda can damage your teeth and cause decay.
- Candy – Eating any food packed with sugar is like ringing the dinner bell for cavity-causing bacteria. Sticky and chewy candies are especially high in sugar and get stuck on teeth providing a steady source of fuel for bacteria.
- Juice – Most people think of juice as a healthy alternative to soda. This is not true. Many fruit juices are highly processed. Even those without added sugar are very very sweet and acidic — just like soda pop. Juice should be seen as a treat and not a beverage to enjoy at every meal.
- Dried fruit – Raisins, dates, apricots, and other dried fruits are sticky and full of sugar, just like candy. Snacking on them frequently will definitely increase your risk of cavities.
What should you eat?
Don’t overthink it. A healthy balanced diet is key to lifelong health — including your dental health.
- Dark green leafy vegetables – Kale, collard greens, and spinach are great sources of fiber and are very healthy.
- Lean sources of protein – You don’t need as much protein as you might think. Chicken, fish, tofu, and other lean proteins are great and healthy choices.
- More veggies – Broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, and a variety of other veggies are the centerpiece of a healthy and balanced diet.
- Fresh fruits – Berries, apples, citrus fruits, bananas, and other fruits are delicious and healthy, too.
Kids and cavities — should you be worried?
Many parents think that cavities in baby teeth aren’t that big of a deal because they’re just going to fall out anyway. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cavities in baby teeth must be repaired to prevent serious infection and premature tooth loss.
What happens when a baby tooth falls out before it’s supposed to? The results can include:
- Difficulty chewing and speaking
- Misaligned teeth
- Increased risk of decay and gum disease
- Permanent and irreversible bone loss
In addition to your diet, there are steps you can take to prevent tooth decay in between visits to the dentist.
Brushing and flossing
Brush twice a day for 2 minutes each time and floss daily. That really is all there is to it. The key is to brush/floss thoroughly and to use proper technique. Your dentist and hygienist can offer tips to help you learn how!
- Use an electric toothbrush
- Use only soft bristles
- Use fluoride toothpaste
- Brush all sides of your teeth
- Gently brush your gum line, too
- Try different types of floss and dental tape to find one that’s comfortable for you
Protecting your teeth
Accidents and injuries can damage your teeth, leading to infection and painful toothaches. You can work to prevent this by protecting your teeth:
- Never bite anything that’s not food and never use your teeth as tools to cut string.
- Wear a mouthguard when playing sports or if you grind your teeth at night.
- If you do chip or crack a tooth, see your dentist and find out if the damage needs to be repaired.
Preventive and proactive care
Brushing and flossing alone aren’t enough to prevent tooth decay. Here at Union Dental Center, we recommend twice-yearly dental exams and cleanings to help you prevent tooth decay. Unlike brushing and flossing alone, dental cleanings remove sticky and hard bacteria buildup (also known as plaque or tartar).
Regular checkups also allow the opportunity for early detection of cavities. When a cavity is found early it’s easier and less-invasive to repair. Your filling will be smaller and you’ll keep more of your natural tooth structure.
What about gum disease?
Gum disease and tooth decay go hand in hand. When bacteria build up near the gum line, infection can set in. Untreated gum disease is the #1 preventable cause of tooth loss in adults.
Gum disease can also lead to increased risk of serious health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- Diabetes and diabetic complications
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Increased cancer risk