Do you feel an achy feeling in your mouth? How about bad breath? Does it hurt after you drink something hot or cold?
If you experience these, then these could be signs of dental cavities or tooth decay.
Getting to know cavities
The holes or structural damage found on teeth are called cavities. Also known as dental caries or more popularly as tooth decay, cavities are caused by acid produced by bacteria.
Bacteria that live in people’s mouths break down food, especially sugar and starch. Together with acid, saliva and food particles, bacteria form a sticky substance called plaque. Within 20 minutes after eating, plaque already builds up, and when you fail to remove it, it turns into tartar.
Plaque acids damage the enamel of your teeth while tartar irritates your gums, and these two will cause your teeth to decay.
Cavities can kill
If you think a toothache is something that you can simply brush off, think again.
While cavities do not hurt, if left untended, these can grow in size. When this happens, teeth can fracture and nerves are affected, leading to infection of the tooth. The damage of the dental pulp may lead to extensive treatment, tooth removal or even complications that result in death.
- In 2007, a 12-year old boy in Maryland died from an untreated tooth abscess.
- In 2015, an inquest was carried out to investigate the death of a 68-year-old woman. Allegedly, her daughter believed that her dental procedure caused her heart problems that eventually led to her passing.
- In 2017, a 26-year-old father of two also expired after his tooth infection had spread to his blood and lungs.
- In the article published in the Journal of Endodontics in September 2013, 66 people in the United States died as a result of a tooth infection.
- Similarly, 11 people in Australia passed on, with dental infections reported as the underlying cause.
What can you do to avoid cavities?
You might ask, “Isn’t brushing my teeth every day or going to the dentist near me enough?”
It might help, but there may be things that you’re doing (or not doing) that contribute to the damage done to your pearly whites. With the cases mentioned above, you would not want to take your chances and ignore your dental concerns.
Here are some habits that you should practice to help you avoid getting cavities:
1. Brush up on your basics
The way you brush or how often you do it can be the culprit to not successfully removing dental caries.
Barely brushing your teeth when you’re in a rush or scrubbing it vigorously can actually do more harm than good. A good teeth cleaning regimen usually runs from two to three minutes, making sure to reach hidden areas where bacteria thrive.
To correctly brush your teeth:
- Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle at the gum line.
- Using a circular up-and-down motion, brush your teeth by gently stroking (and not “sawing”) around the gum lines.
- Rinse well with water or with an antiseptic rinse that flushes out gum disease and bad breath-causing bacteria.
- You can also gargle with a fluoride rinse that helps you avoid tooth decay.
Along with brushing and rinsing, flossing should also be done daily and at least twice a day. Request for a demonstration from your dental hygienist on how to properly floss your teeth.
Make it a habit to change your toothbrush every three to four months as well. Avoid bristles that are too firm as these may be hard on your gums and might lead to overly sensitive teeth.
2. Watch what you eat or drink
The food or drink that passes through your mouth can also cause cavities. Make it a habit to be more conscious about your diet.
Food high in sugar and starch produce bacteria that release acids. These acids attack your tooth enamel and this leads to the formation of cavities.
- Granola bars, protein balls, dried fruits, sour candies and other citrusy treats can be sticky and usually acidic. They’re likely to stick to your teeth, especially in those hard-to-reach crevices, and can lead to tooth decay. The acid they contain can also make your teeth more vulnerable as it erodes the enamel.
- Starchy food like bread and potato chips also break down into sugar when mixed with your saliva. Opt for those varieties with less added sugars like whole wheat. Don’t forget to wash down food with water and floss after eating, too.
- The same goes for alcoholic and carbonated beverages. Drinking too much alcohol can dehydrate you and dry your mouth. This means there is not enough saliva to keep food from sticking to our teeth and washing away bits of food. Sodas also dry out your mouth and enable plaque build-up, and can also discolor or stain your teeth.
- Always reach for water to hydrate and flush down food particles instead. A word of caution, though: You might think that chewing on ice is the same as drinking water. For your teeth, that is a no-no. Chomping down on hard substances like ice cubes can damage your enamel and can even crack, chip or loosen crowns.
3. Set a date with your dentist
Make it a habit to see your dentist every six months for preventative dentistry services. Aside from cleaning, your dentist can also conduct a thorough dental check that includes X-rays, fluoride treatments or application of fissure sealants.
The practice of oral hygiene will help ensure that your whole mouth is taken care of. Regular cleaning appointments will help you detect cavity build-up (especially in critical areas), early signs of oral cancer, or other abnormalities. A study conducted by the University of Sydney shows that preventative oral care can effectively reverse and even stop tooth decay.
Fluoride treatments help protect against tooth decay while sealants – thin, plastic-like layers that usually coat molars – prevent plaque build-up.
If you want to avoid halitosis, bleeding gums and rotten teeth, then it’s high time for you to adopt these healthy dental habits. These are three very simple steps that, when followed religiously, will help you avoid dental problems and complications.
Stick to these three potentially life-saving dental rituals and confidently go through life with a bright smile!
Dr. Yvette Porter is the founding dentist at Apple Dental in Newstead, Brisbane, which she started over 11 years ago, and continues to own and practice there today. She works with a team of female dentists who aim to provide gentle, and affordable dental care to patients in Brisbane. Dr. Porter is a member of the Australian Dental Association and is passionate about family, and children’s dentistry, hoping to make their dental experience truly pleasant.