October 23, 2017
"Brush and floss your teeth to avoid cavities." Sound familiar? Just about everyone knows they should brush (and floss). But do you know why?
While we all know we're supposed to brush and floss to keep our teeth healthy, cavities remain a common problem that we all have to contend with at one point or another:
Tooth decay, an infectious disease -- is the second most common disease, after the common cold.
One in four adults have cavities, and more than half of teenagers in the US have had cavities. Oral health is often taken for granted, but it is an essential part of our everyday lives. It’s never too late to take control of your oral health, and prevent dental problems.
While brushing and flossing are two of the most important daily habits for maintaining healthy teeth and gums -- there are several other simple things you can do to avoid toothaches or worse -- tooth loss. Here are 5 things that most people can easily do to prevent cavities.
1. Know your cavity risk level.
The first step in taking control of your oral health is knowing what your cavity risk level is. The best way to know this is through a comprehensive dental exam. With regular examinations, and discussion with your dentist, you will know where you stand, which treatments may be needed, as well as which changes in oral hygiene and diet may help. Once you know your risk level, then you take a more specific, effective approach to improving your oral health.
Another advantage of knowing your cavity risk level: it will also determine how often dental visits are needed. The lower your risk, the less often you should need dental visits. Find out and discuss your risk level with your dentist during regular dental exams.
At UIC, we take a scientific, evidence-based approach to cavity prevention.
UIC College of Dentistry uses a modern approach to dental cavity prevention called Caries Management by Risk Assessment, or CAMBRA. It is an evidence-based approach to preventing and treating caries (cavities) with a focus on catching the problem at its earliest stages, and on using actual evidence gathered from each patient’s case to tailor the treatments and preventive actions we take.
Video: UIC's Approach to Cavity Prevention
2. Brush your teeth regularly, properly and with the right brush.
This is the most obvious tip, and you’ve heard it since you were too small to ride the big rides. But, let us tell you why it’s so important for your oral health – and your overall health.
Bacteria in the mouth: little recycling machines
Did you know your mouth is actually home to about a billion microbes that are recycling what you eat and drink?
That’s how they cause tooth decay in our mouths – by feeding on the sugars in the foods and drinks we consume to grow – then leaving behind the waste, in the form of a biofilm known as dental plaque. This plaque allows all those little recyclers to stick around your teeth longer, until eventually they make acids, which wear down the tooth enamel and cause cavities.
If left untreated, the eventual disease process that can start from bacteria in the mouth, can potentially spread to other areas of the body, which can complicate chronic conditions ranging from diabetes to heart disease.
Brushing Helps Get Rid of Bacteria!
Because of the huge bacteria and plaque fighting power it provides in just a few minutes a day, brushing your teeth is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways to prevent cavities. Be sure to brush after meals and before bed. Brushing before bed (after your late night snack) is particularly important because letting those bacteria linger on your teeth overnight can allow enamel damaging acid to form (ultimately leading to cavities).
Also, using an antimicrobial mouthwash helps to clean away the bacteria while freshening breath.
Want to add even more bacteria fighting power throughout the day? Try brushing after lunch at work. Keep a separate tooth brush and paste kit at work if possible to fill in those long gaps between morning and night.
Proper Brushing Techniques
The American Dental Association recommends the following for brushing your teeth:
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and apply gentle pressure, both of which may help reduce the risk of gingival injury.
- Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the gums. Move the brush back and forth gently in short (tooth-wide) strokes, brushing the outer inner and chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- Use the tip of the brush to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, using a gentle up-and-down stroke.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
- Don’t forget to replace your tooth brush at least every 3 or 4 months.
3. Cut back on sugary and acidic drinks -- and drink more water.
Need that morning latte, daily cup of coffee, or hot cup of tea? Prolonged exposure to teeth of acidic coffee or tea, compounded by added sugar or even just added milk can increase your risk for new cavities. Go ahead, enjoy your coffee! But try to keep it to 20 minutes or less, and rinse your mouth with water after.
The problem with sipping coffee with cavity causing additives such as sugar, syrups and cream is that the harmful sugars stay in your saliva over a long period of time. To counter this, drink some water along with other drinks to rinse your mouth and keep saliva from becoming too sugary and eating away at your teeth. Also, try sipping coffee from a straw which helps to keep those sugary liquids off your teeth and out of your saliva.
How Does Drinking Water Prevent Cavities?
Drinking water with fluoride, is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do to help prevent cavities.
Water is unlike any other drink, and is by far the healthiest drink available. Our bodies are made of 60% water, and staying hydrated helps your system distribute healthy nutrients, gets rid of waste, gives your skin a healthy glow and keeps your muscles moving. And--drinking water really helps your teeth stay health – especially if it’s fluoridated.
Read more: 4 Ways Drinking Water Improves Your Smile
4. Get into the habit of flossing (we promise, it’s easy once you start).
We know, no one like to floss. But think about it this way: our teeth have 5 sides, and all of them need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Even when we brush every day, we’re still only cleaning 3 of those sides. So, without flossing, you’re really only cleaning about half of your teeth surface with brushing alone.
And remember, flossing only takes a few minutes a day – what else can you do for just a few minutes that can improve your health so much?
So, how do you start the flossing habit? Think of it as ‘multi-tasking’, something we all love doing. Try flossing while watching TV, or while reading a book in bed. Ideally, you should floss soon after a meal, or before bedtime, as with brushing your tooth. However, flossing is actually easier and more convenient because you can do it on the go. It’s really just like any other healthy habit – the key is starting small, and developing a routine that sticks.
Video: Flossing The Right Way
5. Quit smoking.
It is well known that smoking and tobacco use can cause many different medical problems. Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body, and over 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking.
However, most people don’t realize the harm that smoking and oral tobacco use pose to the mouth, gums and teeth. Smoking can do a lot more than just stain your teeth – this unhealthy habit can also lead to gum disease, tooth loss, and even oral cancer.
University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry
We're here to help!
For over 100 years, general dentists and dental specialists at UIC have been providing expert and affordable comprehensive dental care in Chicago to restore smiles and improve oral health. Contact us today to reserve your evaluation visit and begin smiling healthy again!
At UIC, we help our patients take responsibility for their oral health through regular checkups, treatments, and providing them with the information to make their best decisions. Need help taking control of your oral health? Schedule an appointment today!
At the end of the day, we want our patients to know that we’re here to help, and we understand that it can be hard to change and adopt new habits.
We take pride in seeing our patients responding to this new approach in such a positive way. Their oral health is improving, and they see it every day. And, maybe most importantly, they are eager to take responsibility for their own oral health.
This article was inspired by an essay from:
Amy J. Nowinski, RDH
UIC College of Dentistry