It’s the start of a new year and time for change. An easy way to make this year the best year yet is to make small changes to your health that can help you live longer and happier. One way to do it is taking care of your oral health. Cavities—also known as “tooth decay”—are a major problem with both American adults and children. The number of people that continue to have cavities increases even though preventing cavities is so easy.
Many people know that cavities have something to do with the teeth and that they are bad, but what are they really? Cavities is another name for tooth decay. You may also hear the term “dental caries”. All terms mean the decay of your teeth due to sugars, acids and bacteria. Your teeth are the hardest substance in your body, even more than bone. This is because they are made up of about 96% mineral content packed tightly together. It’s how you can bite and chew with enough force to crack nuts and other hard foods easily.
However, even though the teeth are so strong, they can still become weak and damaged without care. When you eat, your body starts the process of digestion in the mouth. Acids and bacteria in your saliva break down food as you chew. There are bacteria in your mouth that will actually combine with sugars in the food you eat. Instead of being swallowed, that mixture creates a sticky film called plaque, and it sticks to your teeth. Plaque is clear, so it’s hard to see. It’s also acidic, so when it sits on the teeth, that acid will slowly break up teeth minerals, especially along the gum line. If good oral hygiene isn’t followed, plaque will slowly break up those minerals, and when it does, part of your tooth with die and decay. That decay will spread and you will have what’s known as cavities.
Cavities are areas of your teeth you can’t get back, which is why they are concerning. Once a tooth has decayed, that decay must be removed by a dentist to avoid tooth loss and gum disease. The National Institutes of Health report that at least 42% of children have cavities. At least 23% of children have cavities that have not been treated by a dentist. By adulthood, 92% of people have had tooth decay, often multiple cases of it.
Various health organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, report that cavities are the most prevalent chronic disease in both children and adults. It is the most “chronic childhood disease”, and many don’t even realize it. Studies show that the percentage of children with cavities is continuing to increase. Children and infants are often hit the hardest because they rely on parents and caretakers to help clean the teeth efficiently. When that care doesn’t happen, the teeth decay.
Taking care of the teeth is easier than most people think. For all patients, brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist is key. The American Dental Association recommends brushing the teeth at least twice a day for two minutes at a time. Brush after every meal for even better oral health. Use ADA-approved toothpaste (which means it’s tested and has been found effective to prevent cavities) and make sure to cover all tooth surfaces thoroughly. Follow up your brushing with flossing, which should be done 1-2 times a day. Using new floss every time, get about 18 inches of floss so you can use a couple of inches for every few teeth. Floss up into your gum line, making sure to scrape the teeth as you go.
Many patients find mouthwash to be effective at preventing the buildup of mouth bacteria that can lead to more cavities. If you tend to get cavities more often or have weaker teeth, fluoride treatments and fluoride toothpaste can help protect the teeth and make them stronger. Don’t forget to also visit the dentist at least twice a year for comprehensive exams and thorough dental cleanings. These are appointments that can find cavities when they are small and remove them before an entire tooth decays.
Most adults can take great care of their teeth by sticking to the right oral health habits. However, children often need help from parents, especially in the early years. An infant doesn’t know to brush their teeth and the dexterity to do this well doesn’t come until ages 2-3. That means parents must be the ones actively brushing the delicate baby teeth for their children. Just like adults, infants and children need their teeth brushed at least twice a day to avoid cavities.
You can find baby toothpaste that is safe for infants and children and even toothbrushes that fit their smaller mouths. To make brushing easier for infants, you may want to invest in a gum brush at first, which is a small rubber brush that fits over your finger. You simply apply a very tiny amount of infant toothpaste to the brush for use. Avoid putting an infant down with a bottle for naps and night time. This makes baby bottle tooth decay much more likely, which is cavities that form in the baby teeth from sugars in both formula and breast milk. Never give infants and children sodas and sugary drinks and make sure they are getting enough nutrients to keep their baby teeth healthy.
Just like adults, infants and children should be seeing a dentist regularly. Some suggest starting at age 3, while many others say between 12 and 18 months. This earlier time is to establish habits early and to make sure baby teeth are coming in correctly without decay. To schedule your free infant dental exam or a dental exam for anyone else in the family, call Hardy Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics at (720) 887-6003!