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How to Prevent Tooth Decay

Most everything that you put in your mouth, especially sugary and starchy foods that contain carbohydrates, set the breeding grounds for bacteria to attack your teeth. Tooth decay is a common condition that strikes everyone, as cavities and other oral malfunctions begin to take place over time. We all know that the older we get – the higher the risk of developing tooth decay becomes – yet there are plenty of lifestyle choices and eating habits that can make the environment inside your mouth much worse.

How to Prevent Tooth Decay

What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay involves the intense damage that takes place on tooth enamel. When traces of sugar and starch in foods like milk, soda, candy, and desserts are left on the teeth, bacteria that feed off of these elements generate an acid that destroys teeth [1]. The longer these remnants linger, the stronger the acid buildup becomes, which eventually eats away at tooth enamel, causing the painful decay that sends you racing to the dentist.

Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Decay

Depending on the seriousness and location of a cavity, the signs and symptoms of tooth decay will vary in each individual. Sometimes, at the start of decay in a tooth, a person may not feel or see any symptoms at all. As the tooth decay worsens, the following symptoms may surface:

a) Pain:

A toothache often arises where pain attacks the tooth.

b) Sensitivity:

The affected tooth may become sensitive, where you ache as you chew your food. You may also experience a mild to sharp pang when eating or drinking foods and liquids that are hot, cold, or sweet.

c) Lingering Pain:

After you have finished eating or drinking, you may feel pain that lasts moments after.

d) Physical Changes:

Upon inspection, you may see holes or pits in your teeth as a result of the decay.

e) Pus:

Sometimes, pus forms around an infected tooth.

Understanding the Process of Tooth Decay

Many parts of the human body naturally host numerous kinds of bacteria and the mouth is no exception. When the sugars and cooked starches found in various foods and drinks begin to ferment, they give bacteria the chance to convert these substances into acid in as little as 20 minutes. This is why it is important to clean these items off of your teeth or the bacteria, acids, saliva, and food particles will form plaque, which is the sticky coating that you detect as you run your tongue across your teeth shortly after eating. The most common location for plaque to form is on the back teeth and along the gumline.

An accumulation of the plaque acids strike the minerals found in the hard, outer protection of the tooth called the enamel. Constant erosion leads to tiny holes or openings in the enamel, which result in cavities. As the enamel becomes worn away, bacteria and acid can travel to the next layer of the tooth, known as dentin. Since this layer is softer and less resistant to acid, the tooth decay has reached a level where the process accelerates.

The longer tooth decay runs rampant, the more damage is done, as the bacteria and acid find other layers of teeth to destroy. The inner part of the tooth (pulp) is where the nerves and blood vessels associated with the tooth are found. The bacteria cause the pulp to swell and suffer irritation. At this time, the bone supporting the tooth is sometimes affected. Advanced tooth decay creates intense pain and sensitivity. As a response, the body may send white blood cells to battle the infection, which can result in a tooth abscess.

However, the process of tooth decay does take time and permanent teeth are quite stronger than they seem. Typically, they are able to hold off decay for about a year or two. In addition, saliva helps clear some of the bacteria and acid away, but once the decay has infiltrated each layer of the tooth, the process becomes faster. In many cases, tooth decay is worse in the back teeth (molars and premolars), as there are a lot of nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide. Plus, it is often harder to reach these grooves when brushing and flossing your teeth.

Risk Factors of Tooth Decay [2]

While bacteria are found in each and every mouth, there are some risk factors that take place where an individual faces a higher chance of tooth decay. These include:

a) Diet:

Individuals who face a higher risk of tooth decay often consume a diet filled with sweets, sugars, and carbohydrates. A few trouble selections include honey, sugar, soda, raisins, cake, hard candy, dry cereal, potato chips, dried fruits, cookies, and even breath mints. Interestingly, the candy bar and jelly beans you thought stuck to your teeth like glue are actually easy to wash away with saliva, and are seen as less of a threat than potato chips, which are notorious for sticking to teeth.

b) Water Supplies:

Limited or lack of fluoride in the water supply places one at a disadvantage for tooth decay over someone who drinks fluoridated liquids.

c) Age:

Young children and the elderly face an increased risk for tooth decay.

d) Snacking Habits:

A person with a habit of frequent snacking is more likely to suffer an increased attack of acids on their teeth, as the bacteria have more time to wear down enamel.

e) Lack of Brushing:

If your teeth remain unbrushed after eating and drinking, plaque is allowed to gather, which over time causes the erosion on teeth.

f) Bottled Water:

Since many public water supplies add fluoride to assist in lessening tooth decay, the people who rely on bottled or filtered water for their choice of beverage will not receive this added protection for enamel.

g) Receding Gums:

As the gums pull away from teeth, plaque can easily attack the root.

h) Dry Mouth:

A lack of saliva places one in danger of high levels of bacteria and plaque, as saliva plays an important role in washing away unwanted substances. Saliva also neutralizes acids in the mouth, and limits bacteria growth. There are even minerals found in this substance that can aid in the early repair of tooth decay.

i) Eating Disorders:

Noticeable tooth erosion can occur when a person practices unhealthy eating habits, such as anorexia and bulimia. The stomach acid found in vomit comes in contact with teeth and causes erosion of the enamel. Eating disorders also have a knack of disrupting saliva production.

The Negative Effects of Tooth Decay

Besides causing teeth to look less than desirable and creating foul breath, tooth decay is also associated with a host of complications, including pain, tooth abscess, broken teeth, chewing issues, and serious infections. Sometimes, the pain of tooth decay can cause people to miss school or work. When eating becomes too painful or chewing difficulties arise, a person may lose weight or develop nutritional deficiencies. Advanced tooth decay also leads to the cavities that cause a loss of teeth, which truly affects self-esteem.

How to Prevent Tooth Decay

By following good oral and dental practices, there are plenty of ways to prevent tooth decay. A few suggestions are found below:

a) Excellent Brushing Habits:

In addition to brushing your teeth at the start of the day and before bedtime, it is suggested to brush after eating each meal and drinking each beverage. In order to reach in between your teeth, flossing is known to work wonders. If you are unable to brush after eating, it is suggested to at least rinse the mouth out with water.

b) Mouth Rinse:

In order to reduce tooth decay, you may have to use a fluoridated mouth rinse to wash away acid and bacteria if you are prone to cavities.

c) Regular Dentist Visits:

The over-the-counter products used at home cannot compare to the professional tooth cleanings and dental exams received at the dentist office. Stick with your regular dental visits, where experts in the field can help prevent the first sign of tooth decay from becoming a larger issue.

d) Dental Sealants:

With dental sealants, the chewing surface of the back teeth is covered with a protective plastic coating to keep the grooves of teeth from developing a cavity. The sealant also keeps plaque and acid from damaging the tooth enamel.

e) Drink Tap Water:

When thirsty, drink tap water instead of bottled water selections in order to take advantage of added fluoride found in many city water supplies.

f) Fill Up on Fruits and Vegetables:

Consuming fresh fruits and vegetables help increase the flow of saliva, which washes away the damaging acid and bacteria that causes tooth decay.

g) Unsweetened Beverages:

Use unsweetened coffee and teas to reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in the mouth. Green tea actually contains antioxidants that kill the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

h) Limit Frequent Snacking:

If you have a habit of snacking or sipping surgery drinks throughout the day, you can prevent tooth decay by limiting the frequency of these actions.

i) Baby Care [3]:

In order to prevent tooth decay from striking the young teeth of babies, exercise caution with their baby bottle, as liquids (such as juice or milk) that stay in contact with the teeth for long stretches of time will cause tooth decay with their surgery contents. You can prevent this avoidable circumstance by not allowing a child to walk around with a bottle throughout the day; avoid giving a bottle to a baby while in bed (unless it is filled with plain water); and forgo surgery beverages in bottles, such as fruit drinks and soda.

j) Neem:

Known as an Ayurvedic herb, neem has been used to prevent tooth decay when chosen as an ingredient in mouthwash or toothpaste [4].


[1] http://www.ada.org/public/topics/decay_faq.asp
[2] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cavities/DS00896/DSECTION=4
[3] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/baby-teeth/AN01056
[4] Earl Mindell’s New Herb Bible by Earl Mindell (pg. 123; 245)

Related posts:

  1. How to Prevent Plaque
  2. How to Prevent Cavities
  3. How to Prevent Yellow Teeth
  4. How to Prevent Gum Disease

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