Tooth decay occurs when oral bacteria feed on sugars left in your mouth after a meal and release acids that break down the enamel on your teeth. Cavities are small spots of tooth decay. They usually start off small and grow in size if left untreated, eventually threatening the health of the entire tooth. Tooth decay affects the young and the old. To avoid it, you need to focus on good oral hygiene through each stage of life. Here are a few tips to help you check it out and avoid tooth decay at every age.
Babies and Toddlers
Babies and toddlers don't yet have their adult teeth, but protecting their baby teeth from decay is also important. Decayed baby teeth can lead to pain and misalignment of the adult teeth when they do come in. Keep your young child's teeth decay-free with these tips:
- Never let your child fall asleep with a bottle of milk or juice. The sugars in these liquids promote bacterial growth and tooth decay.
- Start brushing your child's baby teeth gently, with a soft brush made for infants, as soon as they erupt.
- Take your child to the dentist by his or her first birthday to ensure any dental problems are detected early.
Children can begin brushing their own teeth when the reach the age of 3 or 4. To minimize tooth decay, make sure you:
- Supervise your child during brushing to ensure he or she does not skip certain teeth.
- Avoid giving your child sugary drinks, especially between meals. When sugary drinks are consumed, have your child brush his or her teeth afterwards.
- Consider having sealants, which are protective, plastic coverings, applied to your child's molars to prevent cavities within their deep grooves.
Teen and Young Adults
As children enter their teen years and become more independent, it's time for them to start taking responsibility for their own dental health. You can help ensure your teen or young adult is caring for his or her teeth properly by:
- Buying your teen a new toothbrush every 3 months, as recommended by the American Dental Association. An old toothbrush is not as effective at removing plaque and bacteria.
- Talk to your teen about the importance of oral hygiene for preventing tooth decay. Make sure he or she knows how sugary foods, oral bacteria and tooth decay are related.
Pregnancy causes changes in hormone levels, which often lead to dry mouth. Dry mouth allows oral bacteria to thrive, making pregnancy women more susceptible to tooth decay. Prevent tooth decay during pregnancy by:
- Keeping up with your regular cleaning and checkup appointments at the dentist's office. Your dentist may recommend additional professional cleanings to help prevent decay.
- Brush your teeth after every meal and snack, keeping lingering sugars to a minimum and levels of oral bacteria down.
Job and family obligations can keep mature adults pretty busy. Don't let your busy schedule get in the way of practicing good oral hygiene habits, which include brushing twice per day and flossing daily. Here are a few tips to help you stay on track:
- Keep dental floss in your car for mornings when you rush out the door without having flossed.
- Put your dental checkup appointments into your schedule on your smartphone, so you don't miss them.
- Brush and floss at a specific time every day. This way, you're less likely to skip this important hygiene step.
When you reach late adulthood, you're at an increased risk for tooth decay because your gums begin to recede, leaving deeper portions of your tooth exposed to oral bacteria. Reduce your risk by:
- Allowing a caregiver to help you brush your teeth, floss, or attend regular dental checkups when needed.
- Visiting your dentist immediately if you experience any tooth pain. This could be a symptom of tooth decay, and catching it early increases the likelihood that your dentist will be able to save your tooth.
Tooth decay is a common problem among people of all ages. Start preventive measures early, and you'll decrease your chances of needing dentures or dental implants to replace missing teeth as you age.