For most of us, being told we have a cavity is disappointing. It means we’re headed for an uncomfortable hour in the chair with a dental drill whirring away, then getting hit with a big bill. Every time it happens, we tell ourselves (and our children) we’re not going to let it happen again.
Unfortunately, history repeats itself all too often.
Wouldn’t it be great if it didn’t, though? What if you and your children never had another cavity? All it takes is a little knowledge and a little discipline, which we’ll share with you in this article.
What is a cavity?
Cavities, also known as dental caries, account for more trips to the dentist than any other dental problem. The term “cavity” actually refers to the space inside a tooth after the tooth decay (the caries) has been removed.
Tooth decay is caused by frequent exposure to acids, which attack the enamel of the tooth and cause it to lose minerals. The common culprits for this are foods and drinks high in sugars and starches. Those sugars, and the sugars formed from starches, form acids. These, combined with the sticky film of bacteria known as plaque, start eating away at the enamel of your teeth.
Cavities (or to be more accurate, caries) develop when a tooth is subjected to acids too frequently—as happens when you eat sugary snacks or drinks throughout the day. The first sign of decay is a white spot, which shows up when minerals in the tooth have been lost. At this point, the damage can actually be reversed with minerals from saliva, fluoride from toothpaste or fluoridated mouth rinse, and putting a stop to sugary drinks and snacks between meals.
Everyone knows we’re supposed to brush our teeth in the morning and before bed, but that’s just cavity prevention at its most basic. If you really want to avoid cavities, there’s a lot more you can do. We’ve put together a list of the best dentist-recommended strategies, starting with brushing.
Best Ways to Avoid Cavities
Brush at least twice a day
Use a fluoride toothpaste and brush in the morning and evening. Even better, brush after every meal. If that’s not possible, try to swish water in your mouth to remove any food particles stuck on your teeth. To make sure the spaces between your teeth are clean, use floss or a waterjet flosser.
Are you brushing properly? Read up on proper brushing technique now.
Limit Snacking and Drinking (Unless It’s Water)
Between meal snacks and sipping on anything besides water causes the bacteria in your mouth to create acids. If you’re a soda-holic, you’re just asking for trouble. While not as enjoyable, water is a far better choice. Tap water often has fluoride added to it, while bottled water doesn’t, so stick with regular old tap water for the most benefit.
Avoid Foods That Stick Around
Foods that get stuck in-between your teeth should be avoided. Candy (especially taffy, gummies, and similarly sticky candies), chips, and popcorn should all be avoided unless you can brush your teeth right after eating.
Consider a Fluoride Mouth Rinse
If you or your children are considered at risk for cavities, consider a fluoride mouth rinse. These are available in any drugstore. If you’re unsure which to buy, ask your dentist for a recommendation.
Say “Yes” to Fluoride Treatments
Most dentists recommend having fluoride applied to children’s teeth when they’re in for a regular checkup. The low levels of fluoride in a pediatric fluoride application are nothing to worry about and will help strengthen the enamel on your child’s teeth.
If you avoid or don’t have access to fluoridated water and have a history of cavities, your dentist may recommend an application of fluoride for you, too.
Don’t Chew on Ice
Besides the risk of cracking or chipping a tooth, chewing on ice accelerates wear on the enamel of your teeth. The enamel is the protective covering of your teeth, and once it’s gone it doesn’t come back.
Dental Sealants for Children
If you have a young child, consider having your dentist apply sealants. A sealant is just a thin plastic coating applied (in liquid form) over the chewing surface of molars in the back of the mouth. This coating protects the enamel from acids and plaque that inevitably accumulates in the nooks and crannies of the tooth.
Get Regular Dental Checkups
We can’t overstate the importance of regular checkups. The cleaning you get from the hygienist removes the bacteria-laden accumulation of plaque, reducing the chances of tooth decay starting. Your dentist will assess the health of your teeth and gums, as well as diagnose any issues you may be having.
Momentum’s dental plans make regular dental checkups affordable. Even our most basic Protect plan covers two dental checkups per year. Learn more about our dental plans for individuals/families and dental plans for groups.