How to Avoid Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is caused by plaque buildup on your teeth. Plaque forms when sugars in your mouth attract bacteria. Plaque is very acidic and causes the enamel of your teeth to erode away. This is the first part of cavity formation. As a cavity becomes bigger, bacteria from your mouth can invade the pulp of the tooth (the tooth’s living tissue) and cause inflammation that can progress into an infection known as an abscess. This process can cause a lot of pain and discomfort, not to mention very expensive dental bills for treatment. However, you can prevent tooth decay by practicing regular tooth brushing, flossing, eating the right foods, and seeing your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. [1]


EditBrushing Your Teeth Properly

  1. Set up a brushing schedule. Ideally you should brush your teeth after every meal, but you should try to do so at least twice a day: once after breakfast and once before bed. [2]
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    • Make this part of your routine each morning and before bed.
    • If you incorporate tooth brushing into your regular routine it will be easy to remember to do it.
    • Proper tooth brushing only takes a few minutes, so even very busy people can find the time.
  2. Use a soft bristled toothbrush. The size and shape depend on your mouth size, but most dentists recommend electric toothbrushes that have a round shape. [3]
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    • The size and shape of the brush should allow you to reach all areas of your mouth and all surfaces of your teeth.
    • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months.
    • If your toothbrush is becoming frayed, it may be necessary to replace it sooner. A frayed toothbrush will not be very effective in cleaning your teeth.
  3. Use a pea sized amount of toothpaste. Make sure you are using a fluoride toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association. Fluoride helps to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay.[4]
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    • Small children can’t have as much fluoride as adults. Talk to your dentist about an appropriate amount of fluoride toothpaste to use on your child’s toothbrush. [5]
    • You will want your child to get the cavity fighting benefits of fluoride without getting too much of it.
  4. Brush all surfaces of your teeth. You will want to place your brush at a 45 degree angle to your teeth and gums as you brush. Don’t apply too much pressure, or you could damage your gums. If you’re bearing down with the brush or notice that your brushes fray quickly, you are likely using too much pressure.[6]
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    • Start by brushing the front surfaces of all of your teeth.
    • Use small side to side strokes.
    • After you have brushed the front surface of all of your teeth, move on to the chewing surface and the backs of your teeth.
    • To clean the inside surface of your front teeth, tip the brush vertically and use several up and down strokes.
    • Make sure to brush along the gum line as well.
    • You should also brush your tongue to remove bacteria and improve your breath.
  5. Rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash. Mouthwash can be used to help prevent tooth decay and cavities, reduce plaque buildup, and reduce your likelihood of diseases such as gingivitis. Look for a mouthwash containing fluoride to help prevent or reduce tooth decay.[7]
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    • Mouthwashes that have the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance have been tested for safety and effectiveness, so always choose a product that has this seal.[8]
    • Mouthwash cannot be used in place of regular brushing and flossing. If you find you cannot brush your teeth after a meal, it is a good idea to rinse with mouthwash to kill bacteria and prevent plaque.
    • Mouthwashes that contain alcohol may dry out your mouth, which could actually promote further bacterial growth. Look for a fluoridated, alcohol-free mouthwash.

EditFlossing Your Teeth

  1. Floss your teeth at least once a day. Additionally, you should floss after eating a meal or snack that can easily get caught in your teeth such as popcorn or corn on the cob. [9]
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    • Even if you brush regularly, it is imperative to floss as well.
    • Flossing will remove food particles from between your teeth and under the gums.
    • These are areas where a toothbrush cannot reach.
    • If you do not floss, food particles and sugars caught between your teeth will attract bacteria and promote plaque buildup and can cause cavities.
  2. Start to floss by breaking off an 18 inch piece of dental floss. You want a long string so you can wrap the dirty part of it around your finger as you clean between your teeth. [10]
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    • Wind most of the floss around one of your middle fingers.
    • Wind the tail of the other end around the middle finger of your opposite hand.
    • This finger will be where you wrap used and dirty dental floss as you go through your mouth.
  3. Guide the floss between your teeth using a gentle rubbing motion. Never snap a piece of dental floss against the gum line.[11]
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    • Hold the floss firmly between your thumb and forefinger.
    • Rub the dental floss back and forth as you slide it between your teeth.
    • Pause when you get to the gum line.
  4. Curve the floss into a C shape when you reach the gums. Hold it against one tooth. [12]
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    • Gently slide the floss into the space between the gum and tooth.
    • Hold the floss tightly against the tooth.
    • Gently rub the floss along the side of the tooth away from the gums using up and down motions.
    • Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth.
    • Don’t forget space behind your last tooth in the back of your mouth.
  5. Try using floss picks, dental picks or wooden plaque removers if you find using floss difficult. These methods can help to remove plaque and food between your teeth without the difficulty of measuring out a piece of floss and maneuvering it between your teeth.[13]
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    • A water pick helps to remove plaque and food from between your teeth and gums by using a stream of water to clean these areas.
    • Floss picks are small plastic devices with a tiny bit of floss attached. You can use these to floss your teeth in much the same way as you would using string floss.
    • If you are having trouble flossing, talk to your dentist about what options are available. You may just need to try a different type of floss (unwaxed vs. waxed etc.).

EditMaintaining a Tooth Healthy Diet

  1. Avoid sugary candies, sweets, starches, and refined carbohydrates. Foods that are high in sugars promote plaque buildup because bacteria is attracted to sugars. [14]
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    • If you do eat sweets, try to eat ones that don’t stay in your mouth for too long. Candies such as lollipops, hard candy, and caramels tend to stay in your mouth for long periods as you suck on them.
    • Snacks like cookies, cakes, and pastries also contain lots of sugar and can cause tooth decay.
    • Foods such as bread, chips, pasta and crackers contain starches and refined carbohydrates that are sugars. If you do eat them, try to eat these foods only at mealtimes rather than as a snack between meals.
    • If you do eat sweets and refined carbs, try to brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste afterwards.
  2. Drink fruit juices and carbonated soft drinks sparingly. Carbonated soft drinks are very high in sugar.[15] Fruit juices often contain hidden added sugar, especially if they are called “fruit juice drinks” or “fruit juice cocktails.” Avoid these.
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    • Carbonated soft drinks are also very acidic. Acids in drinks and food can break down enamel and increase the risk of tooth decay.
    • While fruit juices are healthy in moderation, they contain a lot more concentrated sugar than whole fruit without the added benefit of fiber. Drink only 100% fruit juice with no added sugar. Research suggests that 100% fruit juice is unlikely to cause tooth decay.[16]
    • If you drink these items, make sure to do so with a straw to minimize contact with your teeth.
  3. Limit consumption of acidic foods. Acids from foods can erode enamel just as much as acids from soft drinks.[17]
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    • Acidic foods include citrus such as lemons and limes.
    • Tomatoes, pickles, honey and wine are also acidic foods that can cause damage to your enamel.
    • While it’s ok to eat these types of foods, try to keep them in your mouth for as short a time as possible.
  4. Drink tap water and green/black teas. Tap water is fortified with fluoride in most countries. [18] Anything you make with tap water that is fluoridated will help to strengthen your enamel.
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    • Water can help to wash away food particles.
    • Green and black teas contain properties that prevent plaque buildup. These teas can also help to reduce inflammation and prevent gum disease.
    • Be sure not to sweeten your teas with sugar.
  5. Eat plenty of fiber rich vegetables and fruits. These will stimulate saliva flow. [19]
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    • Saliva is a natural defense against cavities as it prevents bacteria and plaque from sticking to your teeth.
    • About 20 minutes after eating, saliva can begin to neutralize the acids that attack your enamel.
    • Crisp fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apples, and celery are recommended.
  6. Eat dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. These contain several essential nutrients for healthy teeth. [20]
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    • Calcium, phosphates, and vitamin D in dairy are very important for healthy teeth as your teeth are primarily made up of calcium.
    • Calcium will not only help to strengthen your teeth, but can also stick to them and prevent acid from damaging your enamel.
    • If you are lactose intolerant, there are many calcium and vitamin enriched foods available such as soy products.
  7. Chew sugarless gum. Chewing this after meals and snacks can help to promote saliva production to rinse off bacteria and plaque from your teeth. [21] Chewing gum is especially helpful if you have persistent dry mouth (xerostomia).[22]
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    • The sweetener xylitol has been shown to prevent decay.
    • Studies have shown that xylitol can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in your mouth.
    • Chewing gum that contains sugar can actually increase your chances of getting a cavity, so make sure your gum is sugar free.
  8. Use products formulated for dry mouth. Dry mouth (xerostomia) is not a disease, but it is an uncomfortable condition that can be caused by a variety of factors, including using certain prescription medications or having a medical disorder. Chronic dry mouth can promote tooth decay because your mouth does not produce enough saliva to wash away food and debris, and thus bacteria are more likely to thrive.[23]
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    • There are several mouth rinses, both over-the-counter and prescription, that can help relieve dry mouth. Look for a mouthwash that specifies that it is for dry mouth when purchasing.
    • Sucking on lozenges, cough drops, or hard candies can help your mouth produce saliva. Make sure these are sugar-free.
    • You can also find a saliva substitute if necessary. These work much like eye drops do for dry eyes, to temporarily moisturize the mucous membranes in your mouth.
    • Your doctor may also prescribe certain drugs if your condition is very bad. The two most common are pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac).
  9. Talk to a doctor if you have frequent heartburn, acid reflux, or an eating disorder. Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can promote tooth decay because stomach acids wash back up into your mouth in this condition, weakening your teeth. If you have frequent heartburn (also known as acid reflux), talk to your doctor about treatment options so you can avoid damaging your tooth enamel.[24]
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    • Eating disorders also promote tooth decay. Bulimia nervosa and purging-type anorexia usually involve forced vomiting, which bring stomach acids up and over the teeth, causing damage. Eating disorders may also interfere with your body’s natural production of saliva.

EditSeeing Your Dentist Regularly

  1. See your dentist and dental hygienist for regular cleanings and checkups. Most healthy people will need to see their dental health care provider twice a year. [25]
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    • When you see your dentist, you should get a dental cleaning. Your dentist or hygienist will use dental instruments to remove plaque and tartar from your teeth.
    • They will then polish them with a special toothpaste.
    • Most dentists will recommend dental X-rays at least once a year. This can help your dentist see if you have any problems inside your teeth.
    • Your dentist will check each tooth for cavities as well as examine your gums for signs of gum disease.
  2. Ask your dentist about sealants. These are plastic preventive sealant coverings for your teeth. [26] These seal off the crevices on your teeth where food gets stuck.
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    • Sealants protect the enamel against acid and plaque and are recommended for both children and adults.
    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that school age children should have dental sealants, as they can reduce tooth decay in children by over 70%.[27]
    • These sealants can last up to 10 years before they will need to be replaced.
    • Your dentist will need to check them regularly at 6 month checkups to make sure they are intact.
  3. Talk to your dentist about fluoride treatments. If you don’t drink tap water or use fluoride toothpaste, you may need fluoride treatments. [28]
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    • Fluoride treatments are typically done in the office during your dental cleaning.
    • Your dentist will fill up trays with a fluoride gel or paste. These will need to sit in your mouth and on your teeth for several minutes.
    • These treatments can help to strengthen your enamel.

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