Tooth decay (cavities) causes and remedies

Family brushing their teeth

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Cavities: Don't put off your visit to the dentist

If you dread going to the dentist, you’re not alone. About three out of every four people are afraid of visiting the dentist, even though today most dental visits involve little, if any, pain.

But don’t let fear of the dentist put you or your child at risk for tooth decay. If your dentist treats a cavity early, drilling can be brief and nearly painless, especially with anesthetics.

Here are some key facts about dental cavities:

  • By age 17, roughly 78% of Americans have had at least one tooth cavity.
  • Approximately 15% of children and 20% of adults have untreated cavities.

Cavities can form because bacteria in your mouth produce acid when sugar is present. Drinking a sugary soda means acid is eating away at your teeth for at least 20 minutes.

A cavity may not have symptoms

The signs and symptoms of cavities and tooth decay can vary widely. When a cavity starts, you may not have any symptoms at all. That’s why regular visits to your dentist are so important. X-rays, exams and other tools can help your dentist detect the earliest stages of decay and help prevent it from getting worse.

However, if untreated, a cavity can cause:

  • Toothache or pain while chewing
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Pain when eating or drinking liquids that are sweet, hot or cold
  • Visible holes or pits in your teeth

Make brushing a habit

The Mayo Clinic offers these tips to avoid dental cavities:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. If you can, brush after every meal.
  • Take your time brushing. Make sure you do a good job, carefully brushing all of the tooth surfaces. Don’t forget your tongue and the roof of your mouth.

All you need to be a first-class brusher is fluoride toothpaste and a soft or extra-soft brush. Many people find an electric or battery-powered toothbrush keeps their teeth feeling clean.

How to brush. Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, then use circular strokes to gently brush all surfaces. Don't scrub too hard—that can make your gums sore or even wear down tooth enamel over time. It’s best to brush gently for a little longer.

Keep your toothbrush clean. Always rinse it when you're done, and help it dry by storing it in the open air with the bristles up. Replace your worn toothbrush with a new one at least every three months.

Flossing is essential

Most dentists say flossing is just as important as brushing. Flossing removes food particles from between teeth and under the gums, lowering the risk of a tooth cavity or gum disease. So try to floss at least once a day.

And don’t forget, regular dentist visits are vital for preventing cavities and gum disease. So make those appointments twice a year.

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