Tooth decay is a serious and quite common issue. In fact, it is the second most widespread disease after the common cold, with 57% of kids and adults in Canada having, or having had, a cavity, and 96% of adults having a history of cavities. While cavities may be common, they should never be thought of as normal.
There have been many great advances in dentistry through the years, so why do we still have so many cavities? Part of the problem is the too-common belief that primary (baby) teeth aren’t that important, since they will fall out in a couple of years anyway. Cavities in these teeth don’t matter since the tooth is going to be replaced. But this is a poor opinion to have; a cavity can dissolve the tooth, eventually reaching the nerves and causing severe pain, loss of sleep, and other issues. In addition, losing a primary tooth too early can affect the development of speech and the alignment of the adult teeth to come.
Proper dental care is important for all teeth, whether baby teeth or adult teeth, and the habits and routines established in childhood tend to carry over into adulthood. A child who never brushes or flosses is an adult that likely does the same.
Tooth decay is caused by several factors including the foods you eat, acid-producing bacteria, and susceptible teeth. Typically, cavities begin with bacteria in your mouth feeding on the sugary, starchy foods you consume, turning carbohydrates into acids. Bacteria, acid, food, and saliva mix to form plaque, which coats the teeth. Without proper brushing to remove the plaque, it begins to dissolve tooth enamel, creating cavities.
Unfortunately, there is no real cure for cavities. The best way to deal with them lies in preventing them from occurring in the first place. Proper oral hygiene is the best way to do this. Some of the most important steps in avoiding cavities include:
Brushing with fluoride toothpaste after eating or drinking. You should brush twice a day for two minutes each time, spending at least 30 seconds on each quadrant of your mouth.
Flossing is often overlooked, but this means you will miss 40% of your tooth’s surface each day.
Rinsing your mouth with a fluoride rinse
Seeing your dentist regularly for a thorough checkup and cleaning
Avoiding frequent snacking
Eating foods that are good for your teeth, such as dark, leafy fruits and vegetables which provide calcium and reduce the acids in saliva. Avoid sugary and starchy foods and drinks.
Proper oral care can also prevent tooth decay from getting worse. Enamel can repair itself using the minerals found in saliva, fluoride toothpaste, and other sources, thus while not really a cure, tooth decay may be reversible with proper care, which includes your at-home regimen and regular visits to your dentist.