Cavities are the #1 dental health problem facing people of all ages.
Recent estimates show that over 90% of people will get a cavity at some point in their lives. But don’t despair! Cavities aren’t inevitable and there are some simple things you can do to prevent cavities. What are they? Let’s find out together!
How do cavities form?
There are millions and millions of bacteria in your mouth. All they want to do is eat and make more bacteria. These bacteria feast on simple sugars left behind in your mouth after you eat. Bacteria excrete acid that can damage the outer layer of your teeth leading to decay.
Brushing and flossing work to both remove the bacteria themselves and any stuck-on bits of food that may provide them with fuel. But as bacteria multiply, they can build into a sticky and hard-to-remove substance known as tartar. These deposits of tartar can’t be easily brushed away and further increase your chances of getting a cavity.
See your dentist or hygienist every 6 months for an exam, checkup, and cleaning. During a cleaning, your hygienist cleans your teeth using specialized tools that remove stubborn bacterial plaque and tartar.
Then as part of your exam and checkup, your dentist will review x-rays of your teeth and inspect your teeth for signs of tooth decay. You’ll get advice on how to keep your teeth clean and free of cavities.
However, if a cavity is found, that leads us to our next tip…
Nip cavities in the bud
Regular trips to the dentist help identify cavities early, while they’re still small. Smaller cavities are easier to repair and require removing less of your natural tooth structure. Plus, smaller fillings tend to be more durable and last longer.
When cavities aren’t treated promptly, they always get bigger — cavities just don’t go away on their own. When left untreated for a long time, you may eventually need a root canal. Sometimes tooth decay can become so severe that the tooth has to be removed.
So stay up to date with trips to the dentist and catch any cavities early!
Brush and floss
Of course, there’s more to do than just seeing the dentist. In between appointments, you must brush and floss religiously! Your dentist can teach you the right technique and give you pointers on how to become an expert brusher and flosser. In general, some tips are:
- Brush 2x a day for 2 minutes each time
- Use a toothbrush with soft bristles
- Floss once a day or when you feel food caught in your teeth — you may also want to try a Waterpik!
- Try different types of dental floss to find one that works for you — rough teeth, for example, may do better with smooth dental tape
- Wait 30-45 minutes after eating to brush to avoid scrubbing acidic saliva into your teeth
Invest in an electric toothbrush
This one’s big enough to talk about on its own!
High-quality electric toothbrushes, like those from Oral B or Sonicare, are amazing. They’re not only much better at actually cleaning your teeth, but they also have other benefits too:
- Built-in timers make it easy to be sure you’re brushing for at least 2 minutes
- Many have sensors to let you know if you’re brushing too hard
- Kids who haven’t mastered fine motor skills can especially benefit from electric toothbrushes
TIP: Hold an electric toothbrush between your thumb and forefinger. This helps you maintain a gentle touch and avoid brushing too vigorously.
What parents need to know about cavities
There’s so much misinformation out there about kids and cavities. The biggest is that cavities in baby teeth are “OK”. This just isn’t true! Cavities in baby teeth may:
- Show that a child may need more help to develop good brushing and flossing habits to prevent cavities in the future
- Cause severe damage and require extraction of the tooth before it’s ready to come out naturally
- Make a child more fearful of the dentist (although we work to prevent this) if they need to have cavities filled
- Reduce the effectiveness of braces and other orthodontic treatments
- Fluoride has been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of cavities in kids and adults by up to 25%
Reduce the sugar and acid in your diet
Highly sugary and acidic foods provide fuel for bacteria. Some of the biggest culprits are:
- Sports drinks
- Fruit juices — Even though people tend to think of juice as a healthy choice, juices are just as sugary and acidic as most sodas!
Instead, focus on a diet that’s high in fiber and whole foods, particularly leafy green veggies. Snacking between meals also increases your cavity risk because it provides a steady stream of food for bacteria.
Say no to alcohol-based mouthwash
It’s counterintuitive but most mouthwashes aren’t always good for your mouth!
Alcohol is effective at killing bacteria but it also dries out your mouth. Dry mouth can be uncomfortable and often makes people reach for a drink or snack to relieve the discomfort. This just leads to a higher risk of decay and cavities.
If you do feel the need to freshen your breath after a meal or before a big date, reach for a sugar-free mint or a mouthwash that doesn’t contain any alcohol.
Over the past 25 years, Oregonians have drastically cut back on smoking. That’s a great thing! If you still smoke, vape, or use tobacco products, stopping will do wonders for the health of your teeth, gums, and your entire body:
- Your blood pressure will begin to drop 1 day after your last cigarette
- After a month, you’ll have a measurable increase in lung function
- Within a year, your risk of heart disease will be cut in half
After that, every day you don’t smoke you’ll continue to lower your risk of lung cancer, stroke, and many of the other dangers associated with smoking and tobacco use.
Here in Oregon, there are great resources available to help anyone who wants to quit smoking, starting with the Oregon Health Authority’s Quit Line. Check it out online or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to get the help you need.
Schedule your appointment today
Looking to keep cavities at bay? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Catt today. Call our office at (541) 772-8846 to get started. We’re always accepting new patients and we’re ready to help you!
Dr. Catt graduated from Oregon Health Science University (OHSU) in 1997 and through his personalized and high-tech approach, has since become one of the most trusted dentists in the Rogue Valley. Dr. Catt is a member and past president of the Oregon Dental Association and is involved in the American Dental Association and Southern Oregon Dental Society. He’s also received recognition from the American College of Dentists and the International College of Dentists for his exceptional professional achievements, exemplary service, and dedication to the continued progress of dentistry.