How does a cavity develop?
When a tooth is exposed to acid repeatedly, the enamel dissolves. If you eat frequently or drink often, especially foods that are rich in sugars and starches, the repeated cycles of acid attacks cause the enamel to continue to lose minerals. A white spot may appear where minerals have been lost. This is a sign of early decay.
Tooth decay can be stopped or reversed at this point. Enamel can repair itself by using minerals from saliva, and fluoride from toothpaste or other sources.
But if the tooth decay process continues, more minerals are lost. Over time, the enamel is weakened and destroyed, forming a cavity. A cavity is permanent damage that a dentist has to repair with a filling.
How can we avoid a cavity?
1) Brushing with fluoride toothpaste
Brushing with fluoride toothpaste two times each day is important for preventing cavities. Preferably, brush after each meal and especially before going to bed. Be sure to supervise young children when they brush. Here’s what you should know
- For children aged 3 to 6, you put the toothpaste on the brush. Use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. (In children under age 2, do not use fluoride toothpaste unless a doctor or dentist tells you to.)
- Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste rather than swallow it. Children under 6 tend to swallow much of the toothpaste on their brush.
- Until they are 7 or 8 years old, you will need to help your child brush. Young children cannot get their teeth clean by themselves. Try brushing your child’s teeth first, then let them finish.
2) Include flossing in the routine
Getting to floss is difficult even for the adults. But it is important to show our children the importance of flossing. By the time the child is 8 years, the permanent teeth are already in the mouth. Encourage your child to clean between your teeth daily with dental floss.
3) Encourage your child to eat nutritious and balanced meals
Foods that are rich in proteins, calcium, vitamins and fibre go a long way to develop healthy teeth that are resistant to tooth decay. Include dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, cheese, whole grains, crunchy fruits and vegetables in your child’s daily diet.
4) Avoid in-between meal snacks for your child
Snacks rich in sugars increases the acid levels in the mouth. Our saliva fights to reduce the acid levels in the mouth. Frequent snacking keeps the acid levels high for a longer time and does not allow the saliva to neutralise the acids. The constant high acid levels causes rapid damage to the tooth enamel creating cavities.
5) Avoid sticky sugars and starches
Sticky foods such as candy, pretzels and chips can remain on the tooth surface. If sticky foods are eaten, encourage your child to brush the teeth soon afterwards or at least rinse well with water. Make sure your child doesn’t eat or drink anything with sugar in it after bedtime tooth brushing. Saliva flow decreases during sleep. Without enough saliva, teeth are less able to repair themselves after an acid attack.
6) Give your child fluoridated water to drink
At least a pint of fluoridated water each day is needed to protect children from tooth decay. Tap water is the best source of natural fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that can prevent tooth decay from progressing. It can even reverse, or stop, early tooth decay.
Fluoride works to protect teeth by
- preventing mineral loss in tooth enamel and replacing lost minerals
- reducing the ability of bacteria to make acid
7) Take your child for regular dental check up
Many a time the dentists detect early cavities in your child’s mouth and will be able to guide you on the appropriate measure to be taken to prevent further damage. One such measure is the application of fluoride on the tooth surface.
If the dentist thinks your child needs more fluoride, he or she may
- Apply a fluoride gel or varnish to tooth surfaces
- Prescribe fluoride tablets
- Recommend using a fluoride mouth rinse
8) Talk to your dentist about sealants
Dental sealants are another good way to help avoid a cavity. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted onto the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, or molars. Here’s why sealants are helpful
The chewing surfaces of back teeth are rough and uneven because they have small pits and grooves. Food and bacteria can get stuck in the pits and grooves and stay there a long time because toothbrush bristles can’t easily brush them away. Sealants cover these surfaces and form a barrier that protects teeth and prevents food and bacteria from getting trapped there.
Since most cavities in children and adolescents develop in the molars (the back teeth), it’s best to get these teeth sealed as soon as they come in:
- The first permanent molars called – “6 year molars” – come in between the ages of 5 and 7.
- The second permanent molars – “12 year molars” – come in when a child is between 11 and 14 years old.