“You’ve got cavities” — the phrase everyone dreads hearing during a cleaning at the dentist.
No matter how hard we try, few of us are immune to cavities. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, around 92% of adults between ages 20 and 64 have cavities in their permanent teeth¹.
Cavities can be uncomfortable and expensive to treat, especially without insurance. But when left untreated, they can lead to other health issues, too. The same bacteria that attacks tooth enamel and causes cavities can also travel through your body and cause other issues like cardiovascular disease², respiratory infections³, and make it harder to manage diabetes⁴.
What causes cavities?
Cavities are caused when bacteria and food build up in your mouth and cause a sticky substance known as plaque. If it is not removed often with brushing and flossing, the plaque can harden and become much more difficult to remove (also known as tartar buildup). There are millions of bacteria that live inside of plaque, and these bacteria live off of the sugary foods that we eat and create acid. This acid then attacks the hard enamel of our teeth and, over time, wears down the tooth, causing a cavity to form.
If the cavity isn’t treated, it can continue penetrating the tooth surfaces. Once the bacteria has worn through the hard enamel surface, it reaches the soft layer of dentin. Dentin is not as hard as enamel, therefore making it easy for the bacteria to spread throughout the tooth and to the soft pulp, which contains the nerves and blood supply to the tooth. This is how infection can spread throughout the rest of the body.
Luckily, there are a few tricks you can do at home to keep your smile healthy and bright (and to prevent you from paying a higher dental bill). Try out these three home remedies to help you cut back on plaque and prevent cavities.
How to prevent cavities
1. Become a better brusher
Daily maintenance is huge in cavity prevention. Even if you’re brushing twice a day, optimizing your oral hygiene routine can help you prevent cavities. Some suggested steps are to:
Use the right toothbrush and toothpaste: Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush to prevent gum scratching and irritation. Make sure it’s small enough to easily maneuver around your entire mouth. Additionally, ensure you are using a toothpaste that contains fluoride.
Floss once a day: Use about 17 inches of floss to get between each tooth. Follow the curve of your teeth and be gentle.
Rinse: Be sure to swish mouthwash in the crevices of your mouth that your toothbrush or floss might not have reached.⁵
2. Snack smarter
Certain foods can cause plaque buildup more than others, putting your teeth at higher risk of cavities with every bite. Snacks that can make your teeth more vulnerable to cavities include:
Citrus Food, Drinks, and Candies: While citrus has many immune boosting properties, too much can really damage the enamel of your teeth, making them susceptible to future decay. Additionally, the sugar in sour candies causes a bacteria build up, and the extra acidity in sour candy can eat away at the enamel (outer layer) of your teeth.
Sticky Foods and Hard Candies: Sticky foods can be damaging to your teeth even if they are healthy snacks, such as dried fruits, because they tend to stay on the teeth longer than other types of foods. Similarly, hard candies pose a risk even if they are sugar-free, as chewing hard things can cause dental emergencies due to cracked, chipped, or otherwise damaged teeth.
Ice: Chewing on ice is very damaging to teeth, as the hardness can wear away enamel quickly and leave your teeth susceptible to other damage, like cracking or chipping
Sugary Drinks: Sodas and other sweet drinks like fruit juices can create acid that can eat away at your tooth enamel.
Potato Chips and Other Carbs: Your saliva turns the starches in carbohydrates into sugar, which is bad news for your teeth. The starch in potato chips combined with their crunchy texture helps bacteria nestle into the crevices of your teeth.⁶
On the other hand, there are also healthy foods that can help make your teeth stronger and protect them from cavity-causing bacteria.
Reach for some cheese to get a good dose of bone-building calcium, plus chewing cheese produces saliva, which helps wash away bacteria, Or go for high-fiber foods like spinach or broccoli, which also produces saliva. Additionally, the texture of these foods can help physically scrub plaque off your teeth when you chew.⁷
3. Keep your whistle wet
One of your best friends in fighting off cavities is your own saliva.
Saliva coats your teeth and works as a shield against bacteria. It also helps wash away food particles and neutralize harmful acids. It is important that you are producing enough of it to experience these benefits.
From taking certain medications to drinking alcohol or undergoing cancer treatment, many things can be the culprit of dry mouth. And when your mouth is dry, you could be at higher risk of plaque buildup.
To keep healthy levels of saliva, be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Talk to your doctor if your medications are causing dry mouth and see if there are alternative options or a mouth rinse which could help you produce more saliva.
Visit your dentist
The best method to prevent infections is to get a regular checkup with your dentist. Seeing a dentist twice a year is a good rule of thumb. Schedule more appointments a year if you’re a smoker, pregnant, have a weak immune system, or a history of cavities.
Dental insurance can help you and your family stay on top of your oral health. From free annual cleanings to coverage for fillings, dental health is a smart way to protect your smile (and your wallet). If a cavity is something you may need treated and your current coverage is lacking, it may be time to find a better dental insurance plan.
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https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/research/data-statistics/dental-caries/adults (Last accessed January 2020)
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/heart-disease-prevention/faq-20057986 (Last accessed January 2020)
https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/dental-health.pdf (Last accessed January 2020)
https://www.colgateprofessional.com/education/patient-education/topics/systemic/diabetes-and-oral-health (Last accessed January 2020)
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cavities/symptoms-causes/syc-20352892 (Last accessed January 2020)
https://www.parents.com/kids/hygiene/which-foods-cause-cavities/ (Last accessed January 2020)
https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diet-and-dental-health (Last accessed January 2020)