November 29, 2018
When it comes to fighting off cavities, it helps to have allies, beyond the obvious healthy habits of regular brushing and flossing. It turns out there several lessor known habits you can pick up to strengthen your daily routine for a healthy and beautiful smile.
What are cavities?
Even though your teeth are covered in enamel – the hardest substance in the human body – they are not indestructible. Your teeth are faced with things that wear them down, day after day, over a lifetime, including cavities, which are a form of infectious disease.
Did you know?
Cavities are one of the most common illnesses today. In 2017, The World Health Organization classified dental cavities as a major public health concern and the most common disease around the world.
It is very likely that you have had a cavity, or will eventually – 9 out of 10 adults will have at least one cavity in their lifetime.
Cavities are an infectious disease.
The bacteria that cause tooth decay are spreadable – both inside the body and mouth, and from person to person. According to the science journal Microbiome , an otherwise innocent ten-second kiss can spread 80 million bacteria between mouths!
Cavities, (a common name for tooth decay) are so named because the decay process, caused from acid made by bacteria living in your mouth, eventually breaks down that strong outer enamel layer and eats a small hole or ‘cavity’ inside the tooth. Before a cavity forms, the enamel on the tooth surface becomes weakened, or demineralized (one of the main minerals in your teeth is calcium, which is the same mineral that makes bones strong). At this stage, the outside of the tooth might look white or brown.
If you remove the acid and plaque before the cavity forms, the tooth can re-mineralize to strengthen the outer surface. But if the demineralization continues, a cavity will form. This means that the surface has become so weak that it crumbles away, leaving a small hole or pit in the tooth. The tooth structure lost in this way cannot grow back.
So, once that hole happens (the cavity), the tooth can't repair itself, and it's time to visit the dental for a filling.
Your Five Weapons to Fight Cavities
Here are five tips to prevent cavities before they form, and maintain a lifelong healthy mouth. The good news is that many of the things that can lower your risk of cavities are easy to do, and well under your control.
Secret Weapon #1: Brush and floss – every day.
Yes, we know you’ve been told this hundreds of times. But the fact is, brushing and flossing every day is still one of the easiest and most effective ways to fight off cavities and keep your teeth healthy.
And – and it helps with bad breath too!
When you brush and floss, you dislodge the plaque and remove anything that provides a place for it to grow. We agree with the American Dental Association’s recommendation of brushing your teeth at least twice each day and flossing at least once each day.
But, I don’t like to floss!
Yes, we hear this all the time too. Trust us, it is time well spent, and it only takes a few minutes.
Here is why it is important to floss:
Even the best brushing is not able to reach in between your teeth to remove all of the cavity causing food and plaque. Think of this way: your teeth have 5 sides. With brushing alone, you are only cleaning 3 of those sides, and probably missing a lot of the food particles that stick in between your teeth. Without flossing, they build up over time to harm your teeth and gums.
And remember, flossing only takes a few minutes a day – what else can you do for just a few minutes that can improve your health so much?
So, how do you start the flossing habit? Ideally, you should floss soon after a meal, or before bedtime, as with brushing your tooth. However, flossing is actually easier and more convenient because you can do it on the go. It’s really just like any other healthy habit – the key is starting small, and developing a routine that sticks.
A tip from one of our UIC dental hygienists:
"Think of it as ‘multi-tasking’, something we all love doing. Try flossing while watching TV, or while reading a book in bed."
Amy J. Nowinski, RDH
Fluoride is good for teeth
Fluoride is a mineral found in nature that strengthens teeth by making the enamel on the outside of the tooth stronger. It can also help re-strengthen an area that is in the early stages of developing a cavity.
But, where do I find it? You probably already knew that fluoride can be found in toothpaste and mouthwash. But, you can also get some daily fluoride by drinking plenty of tap water. Also, fluoride is available in special varnish or sealants that your dentist can give you.
Secret Weapon #2: Drink plenty of water
Water is important for every aspect of your health, and it provides a special boost to teeth. Water helps wash away acid produced by plaque. Sugary beverages like juice and sports drinks just provide food for the bacteria, and fizzy drinks like soda are acidic and erode the teeth on their own.
And, it stimulates saliva to help wash away bacteria and acids, it also helps reduce staining of your enamel. If you up your water intake, you’ll find your teeth looking better and yourself feeling more energetic!
Learn More About the Dental Benefits of Drinking Water
Secret Weapon #3: Eating more mouth healthy foods
Some of the best foods for healthy teeth are fresh fruits and veggies because of their nutritional and mouth health benefits. For example, crisp fruits and raw vegetables, like apples, carrots and celery, help clean plaque from teeth and freshen breath. Many fruits and vegetable contain lots of antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin C, that help protect gums and other tissues from cell damage and bacterial infection. Leafy salad greens contain lots of folic acid, a member of the B vitamin family, which promotes a healthy mouth and supports cell growth throughout the entire body.
Snack and rinse
When you snack, you’re giving those plaque causing bacteria a steady stream of food, which means that the acid it makes sits on your teeth longer between brushing. Therefore, the more we snack the more prone we are to getting cavities.
It’s a good idea to brush or rinse after snacking to help prevent this. So, drink some water or other healthy beverages in between snacks to wash away food particles left behind.
And, snacking isn’t all bad for teeth – it also depends on what you eat.
As with overall health, the nutritional content of those mid-day snacks also play an important role in your oral health. Sugary meals and snack lower the ph in our mouth and increase the risk of tooth decay. More nutritious snacks like nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy products like cheese are a more healthy option for teeth and gums because they are low in sugar and a good source of protein and calcium.
Secret Weapon #4: Get that saliva working for you
Believe it or not, saliva is your mouth’s most powerful natural defense against decay. This is because saliva contains important elements such as bicarbonate, calcium, and phosphate. These compounds not only neutralize plaque acids, but also help repair early tooth damage and decay.
So how do we get our saliva working for us? One easy way is to chew some sugar-free gum, especially gum with xylitol. Xylitol helps encourage saliva production and kills cavity causing bacteria. Clinical studies have shown that chewing (sugar free) gum stimulates salivary flow of saliva by 10 times. Other research shows that chewing sugar free gum for 20 minutes after eating or drinking can help reduce tooth decay by up to 40%. And, gum can be a great way to freshen breath too. So, when you are on the go and brushing isn’t an option, consider reaching for a piece of sugar free gum.
Just remember, if you tend to have jaw pain or jaw dysfunction, be careful not to chew too long or too often – this might aggravate a jaw disorder such as TMJ.
Are you suffering from TMJ or other chronic pain in your face, jaw or neck?
Secret Weapon #5: Regular visits to the dentist
Even with great dental hygiene habits, it’s hard to remove all of the plaque buildup at home. That is because plaque is stuck firmly to your teeth, and becomes harder to remove over time, even with good brushing and flossing habits. And, plaque may develop below your gums where your brush and floss won’t reach.
Regular dental exams and cleanings are vital to maintaining good overall mouth health. Even with healthy teeth, regular dentist visits can help to catch decay and other oral health issues early, and prevent the need for more painful and expensive procedures.
UIC uses a scientific, educational approach to help you prevent cavities
UIC College of Dentistry uses a modern approach to dental cavity prevention called Caries Management by Risk Assessment, or CAMBRA. It is an evidence-based approach to preventing and treating cavities with a focus on catching the problem at its earliest stages, and on using actual evidence gathered from each patient’s case to tailor the treatments and preventive actions we take.
UIC's Approach to Cavity Prevention
In addition, a dentist can provide added protection against cavities –by applying a dental sealant, especially on your back molars. Molars are rough, uneven and a favorite place for leftover food and cavity-causing bacteria to hide.
Dental sealants are thin, protective coatings that adhere to the chewing surface of your back teeth. Sealants are no substitute for brushing and flossing, but they can keep cavities from forming and may even stop early stages of decay from becoming a full-blown cavity. Sealants have been shown to reduce the risk of decay by nearly 80% in molars.
Want to know more about how UIC can help you prevent cavities?
So there you have it. Five secret weapons to help you fight off those cavity monsters!
While doing these things are not 100% guarantee that you will never get a cavity, they will certainly reduce your chances. Make it a goal to create healthy habits that will last a lifetime so that your teeth will too.
Dental Care Services at University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry
Comprehensive Dental Care For Healthy Lifelong Smiles
Regular dental exams are important for detection and prevention of oral diseases. That is why we take a comprehensive approach at UIC. During the dental exam, we will ask you about any health problems you have or medications you are taking and discuss how they might affect your oral health. We verify stability of fillings or other restorations, and evaluate your risk of tooth decay, root decay, and gum or bone disease. We will evaluate your need for tooth restoration or tooth replacement, and check your bite and jaw for problems.
During the dental exam, we will also look for signs of oral cancer in the mouth and throat areas. We may also take digital X-rays, or perform additional diagnostic procedures to develop a comprehensive treatment plan, which will be reviewed with you at the completion of the exam.
Regular exams allow our dentists to keep your mouth in good shape and monitor conditions that may get worse or lead to problems elsewhere in your body. We can also share recommendations for good nutrition and oral hygiene, and provide counseling on special oral health care needs, such as tobacco cessation.
This article was inspired by essays written by the following UIC dental students for the 2018 ADA Health Literacy Essay Contest
Denia Garcia Duharte , DMD Candidate
Lina Al-Chaar, DMD Candidate
Evan Fry, DMD Candidate