How to Prevent and Heal Tooth Decay: Your Guide to the Basics

Of course you use your teeth to eat…but did you know that something’s also been eating your teeth?

It’s true and it’s called tooth decay: A basic eating away of your teeth’s enamel, or outer layer. Want to know what causes it…and what you can do to prevent or stop the damage?

Tooth decay defined.

Think of a Venn diagram with two interlocking circles. We’ll call one, “sugary/starchy foods and drinks,” and the other, “mouth bacteria.” Where those circles overlap is an area called “corrosive acids.” It’s those acids, over time, that result in decay.


What is the relationship between tooth decay and cavities?


Cavities, or simply put “holes in your teeth,” are the first signs of decay. They affect the enamel or outmost layer of teeth. When cavities are neglected, the middle (dentin) and innermost (pulp) layers of your teeth become damaged, resulting in greater pain and bigger problems like root canals and extractions.


What is fluoride and what does it to help?


You’ve probably been told to brush with fluoridated toothpaste, drink fluoridated water, or ask your dentist about fluoride treatments…and hopefully, you comply. But why?


Flouride is a chemical compound that is used to treat water and/or can be applied directly onto teeth to stop decay. It works because it simultaneously prevents important mineral loss in enamel while replacing those minerals that are lost. The result? Bacteria that have a much more limited ability to create those decaying acids.



Any other tips?


Yes, and they mostly have to do with diet.


If you have an infant…


• You are asking for trouble if you put your baby down to nap or to bed with a bottle that contains any sweet liquid. Milk, juice, or sugar water will coat and truly destroy your children’s teeth as they sleep. Plain water is best before sleep.


• Do not dip his pacifier in sugar, honey, corn syrup, or any other sweet liquid to encourage its use. As above, this wreaks unnecessary havoc on baby’s first teeth.


• Use a moist cloth or gauze to wipe down your baby’s emerging teeth and gums regularly, especially before bedtime. Once teeth have erupted, you’ll want to gently brush for your little one with a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste.


• Wean your baby from her bottle by twelve months of age and get her to a dentist somewhere between her first and second birthdays. A check-up will ensure that things are progressing healthfully.


If you have an older child…


• Make sure your house rule is “no snacking or drinking anything (but plain water)” after your nighttime brushing ritual.


• Encourage him to brush his own teeth, but supervise the entire process (toothpaste application, brushing technique, and duration) until the age of 7.


• If you don’t live in an area with fluoridated drinking water, make sure your child receives an appropriate amount in the form of toothpastes, rinses, treatments, or pills. A dentist will advise you, based on your specifics.


• Of course get her to the dentist twice per year for check-ups, cleanings, and professional advice. Often a cavity will start before pain sets in, and the sooner one is detected, the better.


• Consider a sealant. A dentist can apply this thin, invisible, plastic coating over the grooves of all chewing surfaces to ensure that nothing gets trapped and forms acids. This process is commonly done twice during childhood (once, between the ages of 5 and 7, and then again between the ages of 11 and 14).


Advice for everyone…


•  Get into the habit of swishing with water following snacks and meals.


• Choose foods wisely and eat less often. Aim for variety of healthy foods, and only an occasional sweet, sticky, sugary snack.


• Whenever possible, brush after eating, especially after indulging in a particularly sweet treat.


• Chew sugarless gum. This will increase salivary flow, helping to rinse dangerous food particles away.


• Drink water during and after meals, and don’t underestimate the damage that sugary beverages like juice, soda, sports drinks, and alcohol have on your dental health.


• Tell the dentist about all of the medications you take. Some can impact tooth health, and there may be additional strategies you can employ to minimize their damage.


• Go to the dentist. Children and adults of all ages must get check-ups and professional cleanings twice per year to obtain and maintain optimal dental and overall health.


Need to get yourself or your family to the dentist, but discouraged by the costs?


Please…let :DentalPlans help. We have the largest variety of dental savings plans available anywhere and you can start using yours right away. One low, annual payment ensures your entire family discounts at the dentist and dental specialists all year long. To learn more about this great alternative to insurance, click here or call one of our AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163. We can’t wait to hear from you.


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