Most people understand how important it is to visit your dentist regularly and have your teeth checked for cavities. When it comes to preventing cavities, however, it’s often what you do at home, in between your checkups, that matters most.
The foods and drinks you choose, how often you enjoy them, your brushing habits and the kind of toothpaste you use can all make an incredible difference in whether you need to get a cavity filled.
The first thing to understand is how tooth decay develops. Whenever we eat or drink something that contains sugar or starches, it becomes fuel for oral bacteria, which produce acids. These acids destroy tooth enamel and lead to cavities.
Although it seems like limiting sugars and sweets would be enough to prevent tooth decay, it’s not that simple. It’s a problem I hear from many patients. They want to know why they’re still getting cavities when they’ve cut back, for example, to just one soda or sweet tea per day.
Here’s what’s usually going on. Although they’re only having one sugary beverage, they’re enjoying it throughout the day. So, every time they take a sip, they’re exposing their teeth to sugar and creating those harmful acids.
Drink plain water to help prevent cavities.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to prevent the acids from damaging your teeth. I tell my patients they can enjoy the occasional sweet tea, but they should drink it in one sitting and then rinse their mouth with plain water. It’s especially important to rinse immediately. The first 30 minutes after eating and drinking is when bacteria have the highest level of activity.
The same problem can happen if you like to chew gum all day. In this case, the solution is to make sure you chew sugarless gum.
It’s not just sugar you need to avoid. Anything that contains acid can harm your tooth enamel. Lemons, orange juice, vinegars, carbonated drinks, Gatorade and sparkling waters all contain acids. Some have more acid than others. If you want to sip on something throughout the day, the safest choice for your teeth is plain water.
Sometimes people will get cavities because they like to eat small meals over the course of the day. You can reduce your risk for cavities by rinsing with water and brushing more often.
Fluoride helps prevent cavities.
If you’ve had cavities and worry about developing more, you can also ask your dentist about fluoride treatments and using a prescription fluoride toothpaste. I absolutely recommend fluoride, especially if we’re watching a cavity. Fluoride helps strengthen your teeth, making it harder for those acids to damage the enamel.
Don’t forget to brush twice a day. If you want to make sure you get your teeth clean, try a toothbrush that has a timer.