By adulthood, most Americans will have dealt with at least one cavity. For many people, tooth decay can begin in childhood and, if left untreated, steadily worsen until serious dental intervention — like a root canal or extraction — is needed. Although you probably won’t be able to avoid cavities completely, good oral health care practices give you the best chance at avoiding invasive dental procedures.
You can utilize the four following areas to create your own oral healthcare plan in just a few minutes.
1. Adopt Preventative Oral Care Habits
Brush and flossing your teeth at least twice a day removes food particles that attract and support cavity-causing bacterial colonies and stops plaque from calcifying on the surface of your teeth. Brushing after consuming acidic foods or drinks can erode enamel, so the best time to complete your routine is right after waking up and immediately before bed.
Whether you floss before or after you brush doesn’t matter much in the whole scheme of things. You just need to make sure you use the proper technique for each.
Before brushing, check your toothbrush for wear. If your brush looks frayed, or if you’ve been using it for more than three months, replace it as soon as possible. If all looks well, add a pea size amount of toothpaste to the bristles.
To brush, hold the brush at a 45-degree angle and use short back and forth strokes that extend onto the gum line. Start with the outer surface of your upper row of teeth, then move to the inside before moving to the bottom row. Spend a little bit extra time on the chewing surfaces to clean food particles from in between the crevices.
You can use waxed thread, dental pick, flosser or water jets to floss between your teeth. Just make sure you have the proper technique: work your floss (or flosser) between each tooth to gently scrape the surface of the tooth just below the gum line. Reaching down toward the gums is important as food ends up in these spaces and can cause plaque to build up and form periodontal pockets. When you clean the food from between these spaces, you ensure that your gum tissue stays attached to the tooth surface.
2. Make Smart Nutritional Choices
Certain foods and beverages can rapidly accelerate tooth decay and plaque development.
Cavity-causing bacteria proliferate in the particles and plaque layer created by sugary foods. If the foods are sticky, your risk of adverse dental affects increases since the particles remain adhered to the crevices of the teeth for an extended period of time. So, limit your consumption of sugar to deprive the bacteria of their favored habitat.
As bacteria chows down on the food particles, they leave acidic waste behind that eats into the protective enamel to the dentin and pulp below. But even if you aren’t feeding bacteria with a serious sugar addiction, acidic food and drinks, like tomato sauce and soft drinks, can have a similar damaging effect on your tooth enamel.
Whenever possible, select meals and drinks low in acid and sugars to keep your teeth in great condition.
3. Break Potentially Damaging Habits
If you routinely use your teeth to chomp down on hard objects, such as fingernails and ice cubes, or as a tool to tear into heavy packaging you risk cracking or chipping the outer enamel surface off your teeth, leaving the softer dentin exposed. Without this protective enamel layer, bacteria can easily cause cavities that reach the pulp of the tooth.
There are also some bad habits that you may need help conquering. If you grind or clench your teeth, you can talk to your dentist about ways to stop those habits or mitigate the damage by wearing a mouth guard.
4. Schedule Timely Dental Appointments
The interval between your dental visits is typically based on your overall oral health. If you are deemed a high risk patient, you may need to come in for dental care every three months. Otherwise, most dentists will have you come into the clinic once or twice a year for a checkup and thorough tooth cleaning —though you may also want to schedule regular appointments to have your teeth. Due to the way food, drink, medications and skipped brushing sessions impact the color of your teeth, most over-the-counter whitening remedies aren’t up to the task of tackling serious stains.
If you don't have a dental appointment on the calendar yet this year, contact your dentist to schedule an appointment. Your dentist will perform a comprehensive examination to determine your oral healthcare status and future need for restorative procedures. You can also ask questions that will help you perfect an oral health plan that will keep your teeth free from decay and damage well into the future.