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How do you make sure tooth decay doesn’t impact your life? By learning its secrets. This is surprisingly simple – cavities are more predictable than you might think. While there are always exceptions, for those with certain conditions that may heighten their risk of decay, the majority of the population can prevent decay on their own. We want the best for our patients, and that means providing you with all the tools you need to build stellar oral health. Check out our cavity primer below, and get in touch for answers to any of your dental health questions.
Understanding Dental Plaque
Everything we put into our mouths affects the oral environment. Your mouth is more sensitive than you might think – there’s actually a specific pH level at which it does best. Foods, drinks, and habits like smoking disrupt that and expose teeth to dangerous acids.
Whenever you eat or drink, the food/beverage interacts with oral bacteria. While many nutrients are neutral or even helpful, sugars and starches are bad news. Bacteria consume them, producing acids. These acids are harmful to enamel, and erode the outer tooth surface.
Your teeth aren’t totally alone in the fight against acids – minerals in your saliva push back, helping protect enamel. Fluoride from toothpaste or tap water also joins in the fight, working to repair enamel by providing new minerals to tooth surfaces.
This war rages on throughout each day – and if you eat right and clean your teeth well, you can emerge victorious. But when bacteria gather and feed unchecked, plaque will begin to form on your teeth, making it tougher to combat bad effects. Plaque is a thin, sticky film of bacteria that clings to your teeth. Because the bacteria have adhered to teeth, when they produce acids, enamel takes a big hit. The first signs of decay will begin to appear:
- White spot indicating loss of minerals
- Brown spot from destruction of enamel by acids
If these spots continue to develop, they will become cavities. A cavity must be treated by a dentist and cannot be improved on your own.
At this point, you can intervene at home to reverse decay – but you need to be vigilant to notice the signs of a problem. Early cavities won’t hurt, and the only signs are usually visual ones. Your breath may also have worsened due to increased bacteria in the mouth.
Reverse Tooth Decay at Home
- Use fluoride toothpaste or rinse – Fluoride will help remineralize teeth that have been eroded by acids. If you get the appropriate amount of fluoride from the right sources, it can only be beneficial for your teeth. Use a fluoridated toothpaste or rinse as instructed. Ask your dentist for product recommendations!
- Improve oral hygiene – Better brushing and flossing will prevent plaque buildup and help balance the back-and-forth between acids and oral defenses. If you’re already brushing and flossing regularly, check your techniques to make sure they’re effective. You can both save time in the bathroom and prevent cavities if you’re brushing more effectively. Be sure to brush your tongue, which is home to a significant amount of bacteria.
- Reduce sugars and starches in diet – Cut out some of the sources of the initial problem. Try to reduce your snacking, as teeth are especially vulnerable to snacks since there’s not as much saliva present to rinse away acids. Prioritize fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, nuts, and lean proteins for midday snacks.
- Drink more water – Water not only helps remove oral acids, but hydrates your body and keeps it working properly. Now is the time to swap out your daytime Coke for water, sparkling water, tea, or other non-sugary, less-acidic beverages.
Combat Existing Plaque
If you’re already experiencing plaque buildup, your mouth is beginning to change. Getting rid of that plaque before it hardens into tartar is key – once it has hardened, it can only be removed by a dental professional. Plus, the longer plaque remains in place, the more likely it is to irritate your gums. Inflamed gums can develop into gingivitis, which may progress to gum disease. Periodontal disease destroys gums and bone, and is a serious problem requiring comprehensive treatment. Prevention is vital!
You may have plaque buildup if you’re noticing:
- Persistent bad breath
- Fuzzy-feeling teeth
- Inflamed gums
Plaque most commonly builds when patients skip brushing, especially before bed. It’s crucial to remove acids before sleeping for the night. Your mouth is a different environment while you’re asleep, and it’s one in which enamel is more vulnerable.
Follow the decay-reversal tips mentioned above to scrub away plaque and reset your mouth – before decay can take hold.