Preventing Cavities at Home
As one of the most common health aliments, cavities are a dental issue that everyone should be concerned with. While treatments are available, should they develop, it's far better to prevent cavities in the first place. Professional cleanings are an important part of this, but there are a number of things that can be done at home to prevent cavities, as well.
How Cavities Form
To understand what can be done to prevent cavities, it may be helpful to know a bit more about how they form in the first place.
Whenever food is consumed, the bacteria that live in our mouths convert some of the sugars and carbohydrates from the food into acids. These acids remove calcium and minerals from the tooth enamel.
While this demineralization results in weakened enamel, the damage done at this stage isn't necessarily permanent. Instead, our teeth can be remineralized later, through the calcium and phosphate in our saliva, along with the fluoride found in toothpaste, tap water and some mouthwashes.
This process of demineralization and remineralization continues over and over during the course of a day; breaking the tooth enamel down and building it back up again. Cavities don't begin to form until the balance shifts in the wrong direction, and more is taken away from the enamel than is replenished.
Cavities will first appear as white spots on the tooth. This is an early sign of tooth decay, but, at this point, it can still be reversed. If the process is allowed to continue, however, the enamel will eventually be weakened or destroyed, resulting in a cavity—permanent damage which will require a filling to repair.
Preventing Cavities From Forming
Since cavities are created when demineralization is occurring more than remineralization, limiting the number of times your teeth are exposed to acid is one way to reduce your chances of getting a cavity. This means avoiding frequent snacking, or sugary drinks between meals. Any time you have food in your mouth, bacteria will have an opportunity to create acid again, putting your teeth under attack.
The foods you choose to eat can make a difference, too. Either avoid eating anything that might get stuck in the grooves of your teeth for long periods (such as potato chips and candy), or be sure to brush after eating them. Food trapped in your teeth will result in longer exposure to acid.
As mentioned before, fluoride is a powerful tool for cavity prevention. Not only can fluoride help replenish the minerals that have been lost, it can stop the ability of bacteria to produce acid. For this reason, you should brush after eating, being sure to use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Drinking tap water is another way to additional fluoride, and some mouth washes contain it as well.
As always, your dental hygiene routine should include brushing twice a day, along with flossing once a day, in order to keep your teeth and gums free of acid-producing bacteria.