As you are sifting through buckets of candy, take a moment to think about tooth decay. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria and a diet that is high in sugar. Bacteria occurs naturally in the mouth. When that bacteria combines with the sugar in the food that you eat, it becomes sticky and gets stuck to your teeth, forming plaque. The bacteria in the plaque continues to react with the sugar, and causes cavities. Cavities, also known as caries, are holes in the teeth.
Risk Factors for Tooth Decay
There are several risk factors that can increase your odds of developing cavities or tooth decay. These factors include having a dry mouth, the size and shape of the teeth, the thickness of the tooth enamel, the position of the teeth, the bite, and the tooth eruption time and sequence.
Signs of Tooth Decay
If you have tooth decay, you may experience a variety of indications. One common symptom of tooth decay is sensitivity to heat or cold. Your teeth may also feel sensitive to sweet foods or drinks. Sometimes cavities are visible as light or brown spots on the teeth.
In many cases, a person experiences no pain or symptoms of tooth decay. Instead, cavity and tooth decay are discovered by a routine examination by a dentist. Cavities can also develop in between the teeth, in which case they might only be identified on an x-ray.
How to Prevent Cavities
You can prevent cavities and tooth decay by making some lifestyle modifications. First, limit the amount of sugar in your diet. This is especially important for babies and children. Limit the amount of juices or other sweet drinks that children are allowed to consume, and never give juice or soda in a baby bottle. In many cases, dentists recommend applying sealants to children’s teeth to prevent cavities from forming.
If you must have sugary drinks, try sweetening your coffee or tea with artificial sweeteners like sucrose or sucralose. These sweeteners don’t react with bacteria the same way that sugar does, so they won’t cause cavities.
There is another artificial sweetener called xylitol that actually kills bacteria in the mouth. Chewing gum that contains xylitol after you eat will help to cut down on tooth decay and prevent cavities.
Small cavities can be treated by a process known as tooth remineralization. This involves applying fluoride to the teeth in the form of fluoride toothpaste or fluoride treatment in the dentist’s office. You can also take a fluoride supplement or drink fluoridated water. The fluoride strengthens the tooth enamel and makes it less susceptible to cavities.
Excessive quantities of fluoride can be damaging, so don’t undergo fluoride treatments without guidance from your dentist.
If a cavity is small but doesn’t respond to remineralization, it can often be treated with a filling. Larger cavities that cover more of the tooth may need to be covered with a crown. If the cavity has reached the nerve, then you may need to have a root canal.
Of course, the best way to deal with tooth decay and cavities is to take good care of your teeth and prevent damage. Drink plenty of water so that sugar and bacteria is rinsed out of your mouth and off your teeth. Limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks. Brush and floss your teeth. Doing all of these things, and instilling these habits in children from an early age, will go a long way toward preventing tooth decay.