Arianna Marsden RDH
With all the candy that has come into our homes as a result of trick or treating, now seems like a great time of year to review strategies for preventing cavities. Cavities are caused by acid-producing-bacteria that are present in our mouths. Bacteria consume the sugars in the foods we eat and produce acid. This acid produced by bacteria in our mouths softens the hardest outer layer of our teeth, the enamel, and causes tooth decay or cavities. Some of the best ways to prevent cavities are to eat sugars in moderation, limit the amount of time our teeth are exposed to acid, and practicing proper oral health habits.
In order to prevent cavities, it’s important to eat sugars in moderation. The sugars being referred to be not just the sugars found in candies and soda, but also natural sugars such as those found in fruits and nuts! Bacteria are not picky about the type of sugar they like to eat, and will produce enamel-softening acid even from something as healthy as sugar in an apple. Keep in mind that while fruits are important for a healthy diet, how frequently these sugars are consumed plays a big part in their capacity to cause cavities. This is why it’s important to limit the amount of time our teeth are exposed to acid.
When sugar is eaten, acid-levels in the mouth spike for a period of about one hour before they are neutralized again by the saliva. The longer sugar is in contact with our teeth, the longer bacteria have a chance to produce acid. Sticky candies, like sugared fruit snacks, caramels, or lollipops should be avoided, because they tend to stick to the teeth for a longer period of time.
Another factor that causes acid-levels in the mouth to stay high is grazing on candy throughout the day. This grazing-style of eating prevents the saliva from being able to neutralize the acid levels in the mouth, as they are continuously spiking from the intake of sugar. This high acid-level environment is the perfect storm for causing cavities, but there are some strategies we can use to assist our saliva in neutralizing the acid-level in our mouths. Drinking a glass of water, or thoroughly brushing teeth after eating sugar are great for neutralizing acid. Chewing a piece of sugar-free gum for about 20 minutes after eating has also been shown to stimulate saliva flow and quickly neutralize the acid-level in our mouths.
We should be brushing our teeth at least twice a day, with a soft toothbrush and a small, pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. Flossing at least once a day is critical for removing plaque bacteria from between the teeth. Brushing and flossing removes plaque bacteria from our teeth, and fewer bacteria present in our mouths means less potential acid that can be produced. Fluoride has been demonstrated to dramatically reduce the damage caused by cavities, and when used properly, is a great strategy for preventing cavities.
Fluoride in our toothpaste and water at home can help prevent cavities, as well as professional fluoride treatments provided at the dentist’s office.
Being selective about the types of candy that we are giving to our trick or treaters, when and how much candy we are eating, and being especially conscientious about our oral health practices will be helpful strategies in preventing cavities this holiday season.
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