As kids, we’re told that cavities are a bad thing, and that we need to brush our teeth regularly to avoid them. But how bad are they really? And do we really know how to avoid cavities? As it turns out, those things we learned as kids are true…but there’s more to the story.
What is a Cavity, Exactly?
A cavity (or dental carie) is a hole created when a part of the tooth rots away. This happens when bacteria in the mouth produces acids. Those acides in turn destroy the tooth’s enamel and maybe even the dentin layer underneath it.
How Do You Know if You Have a Cavity?
Most times, your dentist will discover any cavities you have during a routine cleaning and examination. It is better when a dentist finds the cavities, because this usually means that they are caught before they become a bigger issue.
If a cavity is left untreated for too long, you’ll start to notice. For example, you might notice one or more teeth becoming more sensitive or more painful. You might feel a pit, divot, or hole with your tongue; you might even be able to see this hole in the mirror. The hole can appear black, brown, or gray, sure signs that decay is setting in. Finally, recurring bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth are signs that the bacteria that cause cavities are hard at work.
(If you notice any of these signs, it’s time for a visit to the dentist. Residents in North Carolina or Southern Virginia can come to us here at the Happy Tooth.)
How Not to Get Cavities
If you want to avoid the pain and discomfort of cavities, there are several things you can do to prevent them:
- Brush properly. We have some tips for proper brushing below. Brush is your #1 line of defense against the cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth.
- Consider sealants. Sealants help coats the pits and fissures in your back teeth, preventing food and bacteria from getting trapped there. They are especially helpful for kids who might not be brushing their back teeth well.
- Use mouthwash. Mouthwash can help reach places that are hard to get to with a toothbrush and fight the bacteria living there. Just be sure to wait 15 minutes after brushing, so that the flouride in your toothpaste can do the needed work!
- Cut down on unhealthy snacks. Most snacks and sweet drinks these days have processed sugar added. That sugar is really bad for your teeth. Try to limit the amount of refined sugar you and your family consume. This includes things like candy, soda, juice boxes/juice packs, sealed “baked goods” like honey buns and muffins, and most frozen treats.
- Chew after meals and snacks. Chewing sugar-free gum after eating or drinking can help protect your teeth and gums, especially after eating sugary foods. Better yet, finish your meal with a cube of cheese. This can help reduce the effect of acids from food on your teeth.
Tips for Brushing Teeth
It’s a little-known fact that most people, even adults, don’t brush well. But proper tooth brushing helps eliminate harmful bacteria, even in those hard-to-reach places where it hides. So, if you want to learn how to avoid cavities, learning how to brush well is your best first step.
Here are 7 tips we gathered for proper tooth brushing:
- Start with a fluoride toothpaste. Luckily, more than 95% of all toothpaste sold today contains fluoride. It has been the single most cause in the decline in cavities worldwide. (You can even prove the effectiveness of fluoride toothpaste at home!) The ADA recommends that a good toothpaste has at least 1,000 parts per million fluoride.
- Use a brush with soft bristle. Softer bristle bend and flex, which means that they can be worked into pits and spaces between teeth more easily. This helps guarantee that you get all the bacteria.
- Position your toothbrush at a good angle. When brushing your teeth, the position of the bristles matters. The head should be at a 45-degree angle near the gum line, and again when you go to clean the inside surfaces of your teeth.
- Brush for at least two minutes. This seems to be the minimum amount of time needed to brush all parts of your mouth. It also gives the fluoride in the toothpaste time to work.
- Use circular motions. Don’t just scrub your teeth by pushing you toothbrush back and forth. Make small circular motions, going from the gums to the top of your teeth.
- Hit all the surfaces. Start with the outer surfaces of your upper and lower teeth. Then switch to the inside. Make sure you are doing the back teeth as well as the front. In fact, pay a little more attention to them, since they are harder to see in the mirror.
- Give your tongue some attention. Plaque and bacteria can gather on, around, and under your tongue too. Clean the surface of your tongue daily, either with your toothbrush or with a tongue cleaner. This will also help prevent bad breath!
How to Avoid Cavities With A Dentist You Trust
Of course, your dentist should be your ally and partner in keeping cavities at bay. A good dentist will clean your teeth regularly, spot problem areas (maybe even before they become cavities!), and give you good advice for how to take care of your teeth.
If you live in North Carolina or Southern Virginia, we’d love to be that partner. We have dental offices in a number of major cities, including Burgaw, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raligh, Roanoke, and more (see here for a full list of locations), and offer a wide range of services, including fillings, crowns and bridges, veneers, teeth whitening, and more.
If you don’t live in this area, we still have tips on how to find the best dentist near you.
So we know a thing or two when it comes to finding the best in clear teeth aligners for your smile 🙂