10 Simple Steps to Prevent Cavities (Dentist’s Perspective)
Matt Hannan, DDS
Updated: November 27, 2023
As a dentist, one of the most common questions I get asked is how to prevent cavities.
People can take many simple steps to reduce their risk of developing cavities, and in this blog post, we will discuss 10 of them to keep your teeth healthy and cavity-free!Recommended Reading: Cavities | The Ultimate Guide
What Is a Cavity?
A cavity, also known as dental caries, is a common problem that can occur when bacteria produce acid and eat away at your teeth’ enamel surface. Cavities are one of the most preventable dental problems; with proper oral hygiene, you can avoid them altogether.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90% of adults have had a cavity, and 1 in 4 adults currently have a cavity. Cavities are one of the greatest unmet health treatment needs and, if left untreated, can lead to problems eating, speaking, playing, and learning.
Recommended Reading: 12 Cavity Risk Factors (Best Treatment)
Common Signs & Symptoms
The size and severity of the cavity correlate to how deep it penetrates the tooth. The tooth is made of three layers enamel, dentin, and pulp, and the deeper the hole, the more painful it becomes.
Cavities progress at varying stages depending on the location and other risk factors. Occasionally cavities are present, and the patient is unaware due to the absence of pain.
Signs & Symptoms
- Spontaneous pain (toothache)
- Pain from stimulation (sweet, hot or cold)
- Pain when biting down
- Visible holes in teeth
- Black, brown or white stains on teeth
Can a Cavity Heal Itself?
Cavities can heal themselves if they are in the enamel and haven’t progressed into the dentin layer. Enamel is the outermost surface of the tooth.
Dentin is the middle layer, and the pulp (nerve) is the innermost layer. However, once a cavity progresses into the dentin, it can’t heal itself and must be treated by a dentist.
Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) is the primary cavity-causing bacteria. Its key attribute contributing to its status as a significant agent is its ability to abrupt and advanced environmental changes in the mouth.
Recommended Reading: Can You Reverse a Cavity? (5 Simple Steps)
Can You Prevent Tooth Decay?
Yes, preventing tooth decay can save you time in the dentist’s chair, hard-earned money, and unnecessary pain. Here are some tips from a dentist on how to avoid cavities:
1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day
Brushing your teeth removes food particles that adhere to your teeth and form dental plaque. Plaque is primarily oral bacteria that assemble and, if left long enough, will create a hard substance known as calculus. If calculus isn’t removed, it can cause cavities. So, make sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day!
2. Use a fluoride toothpaste
Fluoride is a mineral that helps strengthen tooth enamel and prevents cavities. Using fluoride toothpaste when brushing your teeth is important to help remineralize your teeth and prevent cavities from forming. Bacteria produce acid that can damage and weaken the enamel surface (demineralization). Fluoride can replace the lost tooth structure and prevent a cavity from progressing.
3. Floss daily
Regular flossing removes plaque and bacteria between your teeth and under your gum line, where your toothbrush can’t reach. This helps prevent cavities from forming in these hard-to-reach areas.
4. Visit your dentist regularly
Regular dental visits allow your dentist to spot areas of concern, including early stages of tooth decay, a moderate plaque build-up, or inflamed gum tissue—professional cleanings and checkups.
5. Eat a balanced diet and limit sugary snacks and drinks
A diet high in sugary and acidic foods can damage your teeth and cavities. Try to limit sugary snacks and drinks and acidic fruits and vegetables. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of water will help keep your teeth healthy!
6. Use mouthwash to help reduce plaque and bacteria
Mouthwashes that contain fluoride can help reduce the risk of cavities by remineralizing your teeth and killing bacteria that cause plaque. It’s essential to use a mouthwash that contains fluoride as other ingredients, such as alcohol, can increase the risk of cavities by drying out your mouth. A dry mouth is an ideal environment for bacteria to live and proliferate.
7. Chew sugar-free gum after meals
Chewing sugar-free gum after meals helps increase saliva flow, which can neutralize acid and help prevent cavities. Saliva is nature’s way of washing away food and neutralizing acid. Chewing gum that is not sugar-free will bathe the teeth with sugar allowing bacteria to consume it and form cavity-causing acid.
8. Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth hydrated
Water helps keep your body hydrated, but it also helps to keep your mouth hydrated. Saliva is essential for keeping your teeth healthy and strong, and it also helps to wash away food particles and bacteria that can cause cavities. So drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help to keep your mouth healthy and prevent cavities. Also, use a straw when consuming other beverages to decrease the sugar contact time with your teeth.
9. Avoid smoking and using tobacco products
Smoking and tobacco use are both significant risk factors for developing cavities. In addition, tobacco products can cause several oral health problems, including gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath. Therefore, if you smoke or use tobacco products, it’s essential to quit as soon as possible to protect your oral health.
10. Receive dental sealants
Dental sealants are a thin, plastic film applied to the teeth to help prevent cavities. Sealants are often used on the molars and premolars (the back teeth), which have deep pits and grooves that can be hard to clean. The sealant quickly bonds into the grooves of the teeth and creates a barrier that protects the tooth from bacteria and other particles that can cause cavities. Sealants can last for several years and are essential to preventing cavities, especially in children.
My Experience & Expertise
There are many simple steps that you can take to prevent cavities. You can significantly reduce your risk of developing cavities by following these steps. Remember to brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, eat a balanced diet and regularly visit your dentist for professional cleanings and checkups.
Talk to your dentist if you have any concerns about your oral health. They can help you determine the best course of action to maintain good oral health and prevent cavities.
Knowledge is power when cultivating healthy dental habits. The more informed you are, the better positioned you’ll be to prevent avoidable and potentially costly dental procedures for you and your family. Watch for future blog posts, where we’ll continue sharing important information, product reviews and practical advice!