If you’ve got a mouth, I think it’s important that you have an idea of how cavities work. It’s an infectious disease, like the black plague or rat bite fever, except it has a far less cool name. The disease is called “dental caries,” and if you just imagined me doing air quotes with my fingers as I typed this, that’d be impossible. I was using my fingers for typing. I was imagining myself doing it though, so we’re kinda on the same page.
Here’s how cavities work. There’s an interaction between the tooth, plaque (which is just bacteria that are growing on your tooth), and some kind of sugar. The plaque eats the sugar, and they generate acid. The acid is held up against the tooth, and like most things when they have acid pressed against them, the tooth starts to fall apart. Here at CPD, we want to make sure you understand how we can reduce the risk of your child getting cavities by addressing each piece of the puzzle.
1 – The Tooth – We can try to make the outer layer of the tooth, the enamel, harder and more resistant to acid. The best way to do this is with regular exposure to fluoride. We recommend that everyone with teeth gets brushed twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, and studies show that putting fluoride varnish on your teeth twice a year also reduces risk. We can also adjust the shape of the tooth to remove places where bacteria hide, like in the bottoms of the grooves on the back teeth. We can fill in those grooves with sealants to make it less hospitable to bacteria.
2 – The Plaque – Bacteria is constantly growing on your teeth. As a fairly normal human being, I know there have been days when I’ve forgotten to brush my teeth, and by the afternoon, my teeth feel furry as they get coated in bacteria. Theoretically, we should be able to keep them on the run with twice daily brushing and daily flossing. When brushing, it’s important to be intentional, scrubbing every side of every tooth every time. The floss matters when trying to get to places where toothbrush bristles can’t reach. For kids with spaces between their teeth, flossing doesn’t particularly help. Additionally, the fluoride in toothpaste can help stop bacteria from growing.
3 – The Sugar – The bacteria can’t hurt your teeth directly unless they can transform sugar into acid. Almost any dietary sugar can be used. When it comes to sugar, it’s more about decreasing the number of exposures than it is about the quantity of any one exposure. Saliva contains chemicals that help to reduce the effects of acid on teeth, but it generally takes about half an hour to bring your mouth back under control after an exposure to sugar. So, it’s better to have sugar all at once than a little bit over a long time. By keeping your exposures limited to mealtimes, you’re making sure your spit can help regulate the effects of sugar on teeth.
To put it all together, here are some recommendations to reduce your kids’ risk of getting cavities:
1 – Make the outside of the tooth as strong as possible by brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and professional fluoride twice a year.
2 – Protect at-risk areas of teeth with sealants.
3 – Disrupt the bacteria by effective, intentional brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily.
4 – Minimize the amount of time exposed to sugar. Limit it to mealtimes, and just drink tap water in-between.
5 – Look out for foods that pack into the grooves of teeth and then slowly dissolve (gummis, fruit snacks, granola bars, etc.). They can keep the mouth exposed to sugars for hours.
6 – Try not to hold any live venomous snakes in your mouth. That’s really not just applicable to cavities, but it’s generally good public health practice (Or so I have read).
We can’t promise there won’t be cavities, but we can help you to make sure you know how to give yourselves the best possible chance to avoid them. If you've got questions, come on by the office - we'd be glad to answer them. Heck, come on by even if you don't have questions. We'll share our floss.