Would it surprise you to know that cavities are technically an infectious disease? Would knowing this help improve your habits of preventing cavities at home?
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have named tooth decay the second most common infectious disease affecting American society, second only to the common cold. Yet, it’s not infectious in the same way. According to researchers from the New York University College of Dentistry, tooth decay is, by definition, an infectious disease because it is caused by “bacteria colonizing the tooth’s surface.” However, unlike other infectious diseases, tooth decay isn’t caused by a foreign body. An imbalance in the bacterial environment of your mouth causes this harmful process.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research simplifies the scientific explanation by comparing your oral health to a game of tug-of-war. Essentially, tons of different bacteria live in your mouth, and they’re helpful in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of sugar in the average person’s diet has increased dramatically. This is especially apparent in developed countries. The influx of sugar was unprecedented, as it had previously made up a very small part of the human diet. The carefully balanced environments in our mouths were ill-equipped to deal with the change.
It turns out that some of the bacteria that call our mouths home actually consume the sugar, producing acids that slowly eat away at the layers of your teeth. Eventually, the erosion becomes pronounced enough that holes actually open up in the enamel. These are cavities. If left unchecked, the Mayo Clinic warns, the decay will eventually work its way down to the core of the tooth where the nerves and blood vessels are. The damage will cause the blood vessels to swell, putting pressure on the nerve endings and resulting in pain. It’s important to prevent cavities before they do enough damage to warrant emergency dentistry.
Preventing Cavities with 7 Steps
Fortunately, preventing cavities is really simple as long as you’re willing to be consistent in your oral hygiene. Just a few extra minutes a day will save you pain and money down the road.
- Brushing. We know you’ve heard it before, but brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste is critical. It’s the first step between you and a healthier mouth. If you can, have a toothbrush on hand after lunch to give yourself a quick clean up. Starches and sugars cling to your teeth immediately, allowing bacteria to start creating that damaging acid right away. The sooner you brush after eating, the better.
- Avoid Snacking. As much as we all like to graze, particularly when we’re stuck at a desk for hours on end, this is one of the worst things for your teeth. Snacking, particularly on starchy or sugary foods, gives those compounds hours to form plaque on your pearly whites.If you really must snack, then try a piece of dentist-approved chewing gum. After your snack, pull out a stick of sugar-free gum and make sure you chew it thoroughly around your entire mouth. Xylitol-sweetened chewing gum is great for this as research shows xylitol helps to inhibit the growth of the bacteria that produce the acids that cause cavities.
- Eat the Right Foods. Other than combatting the presence of sugars in your mouth, it is also helpful to limit your intake of sugars and starches. Ingesting fresh fruit and veggies helps to increase your saliva production, which naturally fights plaque build-up. However, if anything is likely to get stuck in between your teeth, have some floss at the ready.
- Don’t Be Afraid of the Tap. Staying hydrated is generally a great idea for your overall health. However, drinking tap water has some added benefits for your teeth because it usually has fluoride added. The extra fluoride in the water can give your oral hygiene a little boost in between brushing and flossing.
- Regular Dental Cleanings. As vigilant as you may be, it is still important to visit your Thousand Oaks dentist for your regularly scheduled cleanings. Your dental hygienist will be able to use professional tools to double-check your work. Additionally, they help you to identify any spots you may be missing. If they do find a cavity, then it is always better to fix it early. In addition, you can use these visits as an opportunity to discuss other preventative measures.
- Sealants. The National Institute of Health suggests discussing dental sealants with your dentist, especially for children. These sealants are essentially a painted-on layer that separates vulnerable areas of teeth from damage.
- Treatments. For some select patients, the risk of tooth decay can be very high. In these cases, your dentist may suggest a fluoride or antibacterial treatment to ramp up your mouth’s defenses against constant attack. As with any medical treatment, you should discuss the costs and benefits with your dentist.