Tooth decay is, of course, one of the biggest threats to your dental health. Whether you have had the condition in the past (e.g. had a few fillings) or not, you will want to make sure that you are doing the right things to prevent cavities (‘caries’) and keep a healthy smile.
This will help your mouth and your wallet! You may first want to remind yourself of the factors that cause decay, to check if you have any bad habits.
How to prevent tooth decay? Here are six important and proven tips:
1. Fluoride: Decay-Buster!
Fluoride is a very important weapon in the fight against cavities. It is found in nearly all toothpastes, many mouthwashes, in varnishes and in drop/tablet form for children. Fluoridated water supplies are present in some areas, where it has been extremely beneficial in helping prevent dental caries.
How does fluoride help? – By strengthening the teeth, reversing early damage and reducing the effects of plaque bacteria. So it can prevent damage from starting and also slow it down if it does begin. Your dentist will advise you on what products to use and what strengths/concentration to use. You need to ensure that children do not ingest too much, to avoid the risk of fluorosis.
You will find a lot more advice in our fluoride benefits article.
2. Diet: Watch Your Sugars and Snacks!
Limit both the frequency and amount of sugar/carbohydrates, to reduce the time that the teeth are under attack from the plaque acids. Avoid snacks between meals to allow the teeth time to recover. Rinse out your mouth with water, milk or a mouthwash if you do ever eat between meals.
Similarly, stomach acids can lead to tooth damage (more by way of erosion) – if you have acid reflux, bulimia or some other similar problem- prevention is very important as major damage can result. Follow the tips on this page and get personalized advice from your dentist.
Detailed advice on harmful foods/drinks and snacking is found in our diet and teeth article.
3. Oral Hygiene: Beat the Plaque Build-up
Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, clean between your teeth (usually with floss) and use fluoride mouthwash. Combined, this oral hygiene routine will allow the benefits of fluoride and also reduce the amount of plaque build-up (plaque contains the bacteria that cause cavities – and gingivitis).
“Fluoride in and plaque away = stronger teeth and less decay“. Note that certain dental treatments can make oral hygiene more difficult- but it is even more important to keep things clean in such cases- e.g. with braces, crowns or bridges in place or with dentures. Tooth mousse may be beneficial for those at high risk of caries.
We have a full section dedicated to oral hygiene; full of tips on what toothbrush and toothpaste to use, how to clean between your teeth and a lot more.
4. Sugar-free chewing gum: Cavity protection on-the-go
This will stimulate saliva flow which helps neutralize plaque acids and re-mineralize teeth that are under acid attack. Xylitol is a chemical present in many sugar-free gums. It helps by stopping the plaque bacteria.
So chewing sugar-free gum after meals is a proven way to help keep your teeth healthy. Of course, it is not enough on its own to stop caries, but it does help!
5. Regular check-ups with your dentist
Your dentist will be able to identify any early damage and advise you on preventative measures to help reverse this. If you do have any cavities; the sooner it is treated the better, in order to prevent the damage from spreading. Left too late, the disease will spread into the pulp – you will get toothache and will need extraction or root canal at this stage.
Regular dental care check-ups are the only way to that caries can be found before it does a lot of damage. Your dentist will also be able to give you specific, tailored advice on prevention, based on your own oral health.
6. Fissure sealants: Protective Coatings
These are protective, plastic coatings, usually placed on the adult teeth soon after they erupt into the mouth. They can however be placed at any stage of a tooth’s life, even in adults, provided there is no (or only very early) decay.
Sealants are placed over the fissures on the biting surfaces. Fissures are grooves on the surface of the teeth where plaque can build up. So this is often a place where rot can start. Sealing over these fissures will therefore prevent plaque build-up and reduce the chance of cavity formation. It is important to know that fissure sealants do not totally remove the chances of a tooth decaying.
While we are on the topic of children – Never give a baby or toddler a bottle to suck on as they sleep. The small levels of sugar in milk can cause massive destruction (baby bottle decay) if a child drinks over a long period (such as every night).
Teeth are particularly prone to decay in their early years, as they are not as ‘hard’ and kids love sweets! Prevention in toddlers and in children is particularly important. Read our dental care for kids section for more advice.
These six proven tips for tooth decay prevention are important at all stages of your life. If you have had tooth decay or fillings recently, you are well advised to follow these tips carefully!! It is never too late to start looking after your teeth and prevent further damage if you haven’t done so in the past.