What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the destruction of tooth structure and can affect both the enamel (the outer coating of the tooth) and the dentin layer of the tooth.
Tooth decay occurs when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as breads, cereals, milk, soda, fruits, cakes, or candy are left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth digest these foods, turning them into acids. The bacteria, acid, food debris, and saliva combine to form plaque, which clings to the teeth. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel surface of the teeth, creating holes in the teeth called cavities.
How to Prevent Tooth Decay
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste. Preferably, brush after each meal and especially before going to bed.
- Clean between your teeth daily with dental floss or interdental cleaners, such as the Oral-B Interdental Brush, Reach Stim-U-Dent, or Sulcabrush.
- Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacks.
- Avoid carbohydrates such as candy, pretzels and chips, which can remain on the tooth surface.
- If sticky foods are eaten, brush your teeth soon afterwards.
- Check with your dentist about use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth.
- Ask your dentist about dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of your back teeth (molars) to protect them from decay.
- Drink fluoridated water. At least a pint of fluoridated water each day is needed to protect children from tooth decay.
- Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exam.
- A mouth rinse containing fluoride can help prevent tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association.
Prevention is essential to avoiding dental problems. These tips will show you the best ways to practice good oral hygiene as well as to help prevent many dental problems.
Brushing your teeth is essential to avoiding dental problems.
Flossing your teeth is essential to good oral hygiene.
Fluoride can help to prevent cavities. Be sure to always use a toothpaste containing fluoride for extra protection against tooth decay.
Routine dental checkups, x-rays and cleanings are essential in preventing many dental problems.
Proper nutrition and healthy snacks play an important role in good oral health.
Brush After Eating or Drinking
Brush your teeth at least twice a day and ideally after every meal, using fluoride-containing toothpaste. To clean between your teeth, floss or use an interdental cleaner. If you can’t brush after eating, at least try to rinse your mouth with water.
Rinse Your Mouth
If your dentist feels you have a high risk of developing cavities, he or she may recommend that you use a mouth rinse with fluoride.
Routine Dental Visits
Get professional tooth cleanings and regular oral exams, which can help prevent problems or spot them early. Your dentist can recommend a schedule that’s best for your situation.
A sealant is a protective plastic coating that’s applied to the chewing surface of back teeth — sealing off the grooves and crannies that tend to collect food in the teeth most likely to get cavities. The sealant protects tooth enamel from plaque and acid. Sealants can help both children and adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends sealants for all school-age children. Sealants last up to 10 years before they need to be replaced, though they need to be checked regularly to ensure they’re still intact.
Drink Tap Water
Adding fluoride to public water supplies has helped decrease tooth decay significantly. If you drink only bottled water that doesn’t contain fluoride, you’ll miss out on its benefits. Be sure to drink some tap water, too.
Avoid Frequent Snakcing and Sipping
Whenever you eat or drink something other than water, you help your mouth bacteria create acids that can destroy your tooth enamel. If you snack or drink throughout the day, your teeth are under constant attack.
Eat Tooth-Healthy Foods
Some foods and beverages are better for your teeth than others. Avoid foods that get stuck in grooves and pits of your teeth for long periods, such as chips, candy or cookies. Instead, eat food that protects your teeth, such as cheese, which some research shows may help prevent cavities, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, which increase saliva flow, and unsweetened coffee, tea and sugar-free gum, which help wash away food particles.
Your dentist may recommend a fluoride treatment, especially if you aren’t getting enough fluoride through fluoridated drinking water and other sources. In a fluoride treatment, your dentist applies concentrated fluoride to your teeth for several minutes. You can also use fluoridated toothpaste or mouthwash.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride helps the smooth surfaces of the teeth the most. It is less effective on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Regular brushing – with fluoride toothpaste – also helps to prevent tooth decay.
Facts About Fluoride
- Makes teeth more resistant to decay
- Repairs tiny areas of decay before they become big cavities
- Makes germs in the mouth less able to cause decay
- Sealants and fluoride together can prevent almost all tooth decay
What are Sealants?
Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces of the back of the teeth. Having sealants put on is simple and painless. Sealants are painted on as a liquid and quickly harden to form a shield over the tooth.
Why get Sealants?
The most important reason for getting sealants is to avoid tooth decay. Fluoride in toothpaste and in drinking water protects the smooth surfaces of teeth but back teeth need extra protection. Sealants cover the chewing surfaces of the back teeth and keep out germs and food.
Having sealants put on teeth will help in the long run by avoiding fillings, crowns or caps used to fix decayed teeth.
Who Should get Sealants?
Children should get sealants on their permanent molars as soon as they come in – before decay attacks the teeth. The first permanent molars – called “6 year molars” – come in between the ages of 5 and 7. The second permanent molars – called “12 year molars” – come in between the ages of 11 and 14. Other teeth with pits and grooves also might need to be sealed. Teenagers and young adults who are prone to decay may also need sealants.
Should Sealants be Put on Baby Teeth?
Your dentist might think it is a good idea, especially if your child’s baby teeth have deep pits and grooves. Baby teeth save space for permanent teeth. It is important to keep baby teeth healthy so they don’t fall out early.
How Long do Sealants Last?
Sealants can last up to 10 years but need to be checked at regular dental check-ups to make sure they are not chipped or worn away. Sealants can be repaired by adding more sealant material.
What if a Small Cavity is Accidentally Covered by a Sealant?
The decay will not spread because it is sealed off from its food and germ supply.
Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?
Children suck on things because sucking is one of a baby’s natural instincts. Sucking makes them feel secure and content, and may induce drowsiness. Prolonged thumb sucking (or pacifier sucking) interferes with the proper growth of the mouth and the alignment of the teeth. This improper development, if not corrected, will change the appearance of the child’s face.
When Should Children Stop Sucking Their Thumbs?
Children should stop between the ages of 2 to 4. If you are having trouble breaking your child’s habit, try to:
- Comfort him if he is feeling insecure. Sometimes children suck their thumb for a sense of security.
- Instead of scolding your child for thumb sucking, praise him when he doesn’t suck his thumb, especially during difficult periods.
- Explain to older children the dangers of thumb sucking and involve them in choosing the method to break the habit.
- If you need help stopping your child’s thumb sucking habit, we can provide you with a patient-friendly dental appliance that will break the habit.
- Contact Us for more information and an appointment.
Problems Caused by Thumb and Finger Sucking
Buck teeth – for example, the front teeth may be pushed out of alignment. This can alter the shape of the face and lead to an open bite.
A lisp – pre-school children who suck their fingers and thumbs can push their teeth out of their normal position. This interferes with the correct formation of certain speech sounds.
Helping Children Stop Thumb and Finger Sucking
There are various things you can do to help your child stop thumb sucking. Focusing on the positives and rewarding your child are important. Depending on your child’s age and ability, you might like to try the following suggestions:
- Reward your child and offer encouragement – for example, with a hug or praise to reinforce their decision to stop the habit.
- Limit nagging – if children feel they are being nagged they will become defensive.
- Mark their progress on a calendar – for example, place a star or a tick for each period (such as a day or week) that the child does not suck their thumb or finger.
- Provide a special outing or a toy if the child gets through the period successfully.
- Encourage bonding – for example, with a special toy.
- Reminders – give your child a mitten to wear as a reminder not to suck, or place unpleasant taste on the fingers or thumb. Placing a band aid over the thumb at bedtime is another reminder.
- Offer Distractions – while your child is watching TV, have toys available for children to play with. Sit with the child during this time and give a cuddle to help them not to suck. In the car, have toys available to keep them occupied.
How Often to Reward Your Child
Younger children need more frequent rewards. A five to six year old may need a reward after the first night. You can gradually stretch out the reward period from one night, to a week and then to 30 days without thumb or finger sucking.
Children can easily drift back to their old habit and it may take several attempts before the habit is completely broken. Remember to be patient and that the first few days without sucking are usually the worst.
Where to Get Help
- Your dentist or oral health professional
- Your doctor
- Your public oral health service
Things to Remember
- Children usually stop thumb and finger sucking between two and four years of age.
- Thumb and finger sucking after seven years of age may cause dental problems.
- It takes patience to help your child stop the habit.
- Rewarding your child for not thumb or finger sucking may help.