Tooth decay is not trivial. It’s a worldwide epidemic, one of the most common of all diseases — second only to the common cold. It affects more than one fourth of U.S. children of ages 2 to 5 and half of those 12 to 15. Among adults, tooth decay affects more than ninety percent of those over age 40.
Prevention of cavities starts with a healthy diet and effective brushing and flossing, but it is much more complex than that. Three strategies for reducing dental caries (tooth decay) include:
Protect with Fluoride and Sealants
This works best when fluoride is applied to the crystalline coating of your child’s teeth just after they push through the gums (erupt). The fluoride becomes incorporated into the tooth’s surface and acts as a barrier to decay. Studies have shown that low doses of fluoride are safe and effective.
Dental sealants are used as a companion to fluoride because they seal tiny pits and fissures in the tooth’s structure, creating an even stronger barrier.
Modify Oral Bacteria
Every mouth contains bacteria, no matter how well you clean your teeth. Not all bacteria cause tooth decay. The problem bacteria are those that produce acid as a byproduct of their life processes. We can identify acid-producing bacteria in your mouth, you can reduce their concentrations using antibacterial mouthrinses such as chlorhexidine, and pH neutralizing agents (substances that reduce the amount of acid).
Reduce Sugars in Your Diet
Bacteria in your mouth ferment sugars and other carbohydrates, producing acids that eat into the mineralized outside structure of your teeth, the enamel. So eating fewer sugars — particularly added sugars such as those in juices, sodas, candy and other sweets — will help prevent decay. Your total sugar intake should be less than fifty grams, or about ten teaspoons, per day. If you begin to read labels showing sugar content of common foods, you may be surprised at the amount you consume without knowing it.
If you must snack between meals, non-sugary snacks like raw vegetables and fresh fruits create a better environment for your teeth.
Xylitol, an “alcohol sugar” used in some chewing gums and dental products, has been shown to reduce decay-producing bacteria.
Try these easy strategies to keep your teeth healthy and functional throughout your lifetime.