When it's time to see the dentist, do you try to cram a year's worth of oral hygiene into the last few days? While the last minute brushing may make you feel better, it can't take the place of good everyday habits. Pay attention to your teeth all year long and you're much more likely to get a clean bill of dental health on your visit. And consistent dental care does more than just keep your dentist happy, it also helps prevent dental problems associated with tooth decay, or dental caries, also known as cavities.
Your parents warned you that too much sugar causes dental cavities, and it turns out they were right ... sort of. More accurately, the bacteria in your mouth live off the sugars in your food and produce acids that slowly wear down the surfaces of your teeth, making them more prone to dental caries.
So yes, Mom and Dad, avoiding sugary foods is often helpful in preventing tooth decay, but you can't completely cut sugar out of your diet. That's why it's also important to decrease the amount of time that sugar sits on your teeth by brushing regularly. By giving those acids less time to weaken your teeth, you can ensure that you spend less time in the dental chair.
During your dental appointment, your dentist or dental hygienist will examine your teeth for dental caries using a pick and mirror. A dental X-ray may also be necessary. If dental caries are detected, your dentist will recommend the appropriate dental treatment.
In between your regular dental appointments, you can also do your part to prevent cavities by being on the lookout for signs of tooth decay. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Chalky, white spot anywhere on your tooth
- Increased sensitivity to heat and cold
- Visible holes or indentions in teeth
- Toothache or pain when biting that can't be relieved by toothache remedies
- Tooth discoloration or soft spots on tooth surface
Caring for Dental Caries
In its early stages, dental caries are sometimes reversible -- fluoride treatments may actually help rebuild the tooth enamel. However, in most cases, your dentist will need to remove the decayed material and replace it with a tooth filling. Luckily, thanks to modern advances in dentistry, most dentists now use ceramic fillings that look and feel like natural teeth.
If the tooth decay is extensive, or left untreated for long periods, it may require additional treatments as well. A dental crown, root canal or in some cases a tooth extraction can stop dental caries in its tracks and spare you the discomfort of more serious dental problems down the road.
Remember, prevention is the most effective method for dealing with dental caries, so make sure to brush all year long and see your dentist regularly. If you think you may have early signs of dental caries, make an appointment right away. The sooner any possible problems are treated, the more easily your dental team can get your teeth back on track.