How to Prevent Tooth Decay
Can you prevent tooth decay? In most cases, the answer is yes. Dental decay is a gradual process. That makes it difficult to spot until it has become fairly advanced and caused permanent structural damage to your teeth. However, it also means that you have a lot of opportunity to prevent or stop tooth decay before it gets out of hand. Here are some of the most important steps you can take to prevent tooth decay in your family:
Daily Hygiene Habits
Everybody knows that they should brush their teeth every day. But this is just the basic idea. There are a lot of details you might be missing. You have to clean your teeth effectively to truly cut your risk of cavities. Here’s an in-depth look at how to put together an oral hygiene routine that will help prevent tooth decay.
Toothbrush Selection: Soft-bristled toothbrushes are ideal for removing plaque without wearing away enamel or irritating your gums. Get a new toothbrush every three months or so. An electric toothbrush is often a good choice since the vibration of an electric brush is the correct type of motion for effective tooth cleaning. Make sure the head is small enough that you can reach all areas of your mouth, including the back teeth, without gagging.
*Tip: If you find a soft-bristled toothbrush doesn’t get the job done, this is probably because the plaque has hardened into calculus (tarter). Have your dentist remove the tarter (don’t try this at home since you may cut your gums or fracture your teeth). Then, commit to brushing thoroughly at least twice a day. It only takes a couple of days for plaque to harden. So, it’s very important not to skip brushing.
Brushing Technique: Hold the brush so that the head is at a 45-degree angle to the surface of your teeth. Use small, circular motions and apply enough pressure to splay the bristles slightly against your teeth. This allows the bristles to gently clean up under the gum line as you brush. That’s critical for removing the plaque that causes gingivitis. Gum disease makes your gums recede and exposes more of the tooth root surface to oral bacteria. Be sure to brush every surface of every tooth.
Toothpaste Selection: Choose a toothpaste that contains fluoride to help prevent tooth decay. Stay away from abrasive pastes and powders that may damage your enamel. Ask your dentist for recommendations on brands. If you don’t like the foaming feel and taste of toothpaste, you can also talk to your dentist about tooth cleaning oils like OraMD that may work as a substitute for both toothpaste and mouthwash.
Flossing: Flossing is just as important as brushing if you want to prevent tooth decay. You should floss at least once a day to keep your gum line free of plaque. Press the length of floss straight down between two teeth all the way down to the gum line. Then, wrap it into a C shape around the side of one tooth. Pull the ‘C’ up to scrape plaque off the side, front and back of the tooth. Repeat this step a couple of times. Then, switch the C shape to cup the other tooth and do the same thing for that one. Repeat for all your teeth. Some people like using interdental cleaners, plastic dental picks or a WaterPik to dislodge plaque. As long as you are getting the job done, that’s fine!
Tongue Care: Your tongue grows a carpet of bacteria every day. This gunk makes your breath smell bad and reintroduces bacteria onto your teeth. Gently scrape or brush your tongue every time you brush your teeth.
Mouthwash: Using a mouthwash when you brush and during the day may help limit the amount of bacteria in your mouth. There are different formulations to whiten teeth, strengthen enamel, fight gingivitis, etc. Your dentist can help you pick one that will help make your teeth healthier without causing over-drying. As you start learning proper dental care, you can use a kid’s mouthwash that turns plaque blue. That’s a great way to help you develop good brushing and flossing habits and make sure you don’t miss any spots.
Additional Ways to Prevent Tooth Decay
Besides taking good care of your teeth with brushing and flossing, here are additional ways to reduce plaque buildup:
- Consume foods that are high in fiber or protein and low in sugar and acids for snacks. Limit sweet foods and drinks to mealtimes when you will be brushing afterward.
- Always see your dentist on schedule to check for signs of decay and to remove tartar. Very minor tooth decay is sometimes reversible. The earlier you catch it, the better.
- Get chronic dry mouth symptoms treated. Lack of saliva allows bacteria to thrive and puts your teeth at high risk for decay.
How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Children
Besides the tips above, you can take additional steps to safeguard your kids from tooth decay:
- Never put babies to bed with a bottle containing milk, formula or juice. Instead, fill the bottle with water.
- Don’t share utensils, glasses or toothbrushes with your children. The strains of bacteria that are most likely to contribute to tooth decay are very common. If you are cavity-prone, you don’t want to pass on those bacteria to your kids.
- If you live in an area without fluoridated water or if your children are already getting cavities, they may be candidates for in-office fluoride treatment. Check with your dentist about this preventive procedure.
- Most kids can benefit from dental sealant. This clear plastic material is used to seal the chewing surfaces of molars and limit cavities. It is painless and inexpensive (especially compared to the cost of dental fillings).