Cavities aren’t inevitable. You can stop tooth decay in its tracks with good oral health.
Perhaps no other dental complaint sends more people to the dentist’s chair than tooth decay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 91 percent of adults aged 20 to 64 have had dental cavities. That’s a lot of time, dollars, and — yes — pain!
Tooth decay occurs when a sticky film called plaque coats the tooth’s surface. Although plaque develops naturally, it becomes harmful when it interacts with bacteria, turning into an acid that eventually burrows through the outer layer of tooth enamel. Yet you can prevent and possibly even cure tooth decay before that happens.
How to Cure and Prevent Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is a progressive condition. However, it can be halted or even reversed by following good dental hygiene practices. The first rule of thumb is to avoid eating sweet or starchy foods. Sugar, in particular, combines with bacteria in the mouth to form the enamel-damaging plaque we mentioned earlier. As the plaque strips away the tooth’s protective outer layer of enamel, the risk of a cavity increases.
A small white spot on the tooth is usually the first sign of a cavity. The spot may eventually turn brown or black. If you experience a sharp pain in the tooth, sensitivity to hot, cold or sugary foods, or pain when biting down on the tooth, it’s likely due to a cavity. If the tooth decay hasn’t tunneled deeper into the tooth, your dentist will remove the cavity and fill the hole with a resin or composite filling.
But as more of the protective enamel wears away, the decay expands and can cause more damage. If the cavity isn’t treated early, it can spread further into the tooth’s inner layers and infect the inner pulp of the tooth. If the decay reaches beyond the pulp, a painful abscess will form. When it reaches that stage, a crown, root canal, or extraction may be necessary.
The goal of good dental care is to prevent the decay from reaching that stage. Even before a cavity forms, or when it’s in its early stages, you can pre-empt the beginnings of decay by focusing on strengthening your enamel:
Brush With Flouride. The first stage of tooth decay is demineralization of the enamel, or a stripping away of the outer coat of enamel. As enamel thins, bacteria thrives on the tooth’s surface. To remineralize and strengthen the enamel, brush twice daily with a fluoride-based toothpaste. Discuss with your dentist fluoride treatments, such as applying a fluoride-rich liquid, gel, foam, or varnish directly on the tooth’s surface. A prescription for fluoride is another option to keep your enamel strong.
Rinse With Fluoride. Similar to brushing with fluoride, rinsing with an alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash decreases bacteria in the mouth. Rinsing also has the advantage of reaching the hard-to-reach spaces between teeth.
Floss Daily. Plaque can build up between the teeth. The only way to remove that plaque is by flossing each day, preferably before bed so the bacteria has less chance to grow overnight.
Chew Sugar-free Gum. Believe or not, chewing gum can be good for your teeth — as long as it’s the sugar-free variety. Chewing stimulates saliva production in the mouth, which can wash away harmful bacteria.
Avoid Certain Foods. Sweets and starchy foods like bread and cookies accelerate the formation of bacteria and plaque. If you decide to indulge, brush your teeth soon after consuming. Or, instead of reaching for a cookie, snack on calcium- and phosphorus-rich foods that strengthen enamel.
See Your Dentist Regularly. Don’t wait until your tooth hurts. Schedule a twice-yearly checkup and cleaning to catch the earliest signs of decay — or possibly stop decay in its tracks before you need a filing.
Take Care of Tooth Decay Today
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