How does a cavity develop?
When a tooth is exposed to acid frequently — for example, if you eat or drink often, especially foods or drinks containing sugar 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 help teeth win the tug of war and avoid a cavity?
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. It . . .
- prevents mineral loss in tooth enamel and replaces lost minerals
- reduces the ability of bacteria to make acid
You can get fluoride by:
- Drinking fluoridated water from a community water supply; about 74 percent of Americans served by a community water supply system receive fluoridated water. (If you have well water, see “Private Well Water and Fluoride” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
- Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste
If your dentist thinks you need more fluoride to keep your teeth healthy, he or she may—
- Apply a fluoride gel or varnish to tooth surfaces
- Prescribe fluoride tablets
- Recommend using a fluoride mouth rinse
About Bottled Water – Most bottled water does not contain enough fluoride to prevent tooth decay. If your child drinks only bottled water, talk with a dentist or doctor about whether your child needs additional fluoride in the form of a tablet, varnish, or gel.
Keep an eye on how often your child eats, as well as what she eats.
Your child’s diet is important in preventing a cavity. Remember . . . every time we eat or drink something that contains sugar or starches, bacteria in our mouth use the sugar and starch to produce acids. These acids begin to eat away at the tooth’s enamel.
Our saliva can help fight off this acid attack. But if we eat frequently throughout the day — especially foods and drinks containing sugar and starches — the repeated acid attacks will win the tug of war, causing the tooth to lose minerals and eventually develop a cavity.
That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on how often your children eat as well as what they eat.
- Limit between-meal snacks. This reduces the number of acid attacks on teeth and gives teeth a chance to repair themselves.
- Save candy, cookies, soda, and other sugary drinks for special occasions
- Limit fruit juice. Follow the Daily Juice Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- 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.
Make sure your child brushes
Brushing with fluoride toothpaste is important for preventing cavities.
Here’s what you should know about brushing:
- Have your child brush two times per day
- Supervise young children when they brush –
- For children aged 2 to 6, you put the toothpaste on the brush. Use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- 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. If children regularly consume higher-than-recommended amounts of fluoride during the teeth-forming years (age 8 and younger), their permanent teeth may develop white lines or flecks called dental fluorosis. Fluorosis is usually mild; in many cases, only a dental professional would notice it. (In children under age 2, dental experts recommend that you do not use fluoride toothpaste unless directed by a doctor or dentist.)
- 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 her finish.