Your Role in Preventing Oral Issues
Preventing cavities and gum disease from occurring in the first place is the best way to keep your oral health in great shape. While most people will get a cavity at some point in their life and there are plenty of methods to treat issues when this happens, there are also many steps we can take toward protecting our oral health. Over the years, though, many misconceptions have cropped up about what causes cavities and gum disease and how best to prevent them. Here are some of the misconceptions we’ve heard most often and the truths behind them.
Cavities are only caused by sugar.
While sugar certainly will cause cavities, carbohydrates can be just as damaging to your teeth. This is largely because they break down into sugars, which the bacteria in your mouth eat, creating acid that damages your enamel in the process. The danger with carbohydrates is that they tend to stick to your teeth for extended periods of time, providing ample food for the bacteria to keep producing acids. Drinks with high acidity levels, such as sodas, aren’t great for your teeth either.
Snacking increases your risk for cavities.
Snacking in and of itself isn’t horrible for your teeth, but how often you snack and what you eat does have an impact on the health of your teeth. If you’re constantly grazing throughout the day, your teeth don’t have time to recover, which certainly increases your chance for tooth decay. However, a single snack during the day won’t increase your likelihood of decay.
Additionally, there are foods you can snack on that are actually great for your teeth. Apples are a great source of fluoride, and fruits or vegetables with plenty of water in them, like melons and cucumbers, are also great for your teeth. Yogurt is packed with protein and calcium, making it great for your teeth, as well. While you certainly shouldn’t be snacking all day, both for the health of your body and the health of your teeth, having a snack each day won’t harm you—especially if the snack promotes good health!
Gum is bad for teeth.
This myth is half true; there are many kinds of gum that aren’t good for your teeth because they’re packed with sugar. Sugar-free gum, however, is actually beneficial to your teeth. It encourages saliva production, which is your mouth’s natural cleaning system. The saliva gets rid of acid and bacteria, helping to protect your teeth from decay. If you make the switch to sugar-free gum, you can chew it without worrying about developing cavities as a result.
It’s okay if I only brush my teeth.
With the busy lives that many of us lead, it’s easy to simply brush your teeth before flying out the door. The fact is, however, that brushing your teeth alone isn’t enough to protect your mouth from decay. You should also floss and rinse your mouth with mouthwash at least once a day; each of these methods reaches bacteria that the other methods simply can’t.
In particular, flossing can mean the difference between losing teeth and keeping your pearly whites firmly in place; it removes bacteria and plaque from between your teeth. If you don’t floss, you can develop gingivitis or periodontitis, the latter of which is the leading cause of tooth loss in America. In fact, almost half of Americans 30 years of age and older have periodontitis. If you want to avoid cavities, root canals, and other costly treatments, you should adhere to a dental hygiene routine that includes brushing your teeth, flossing, and using mouthwash. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that it adds very little time to your morning or nightly routine.
I don’t have a cavity unless my teeth hurt.
Cavities don’t usually hurt; you can have a cavity without any indication that something is wrong. If one of your teeth is hurting, it usually means that the decay has gone too deep into your tooth, reaching the nerve. At that point, you’d probably need a root canal. This is why going to your dentist for regular cleanings is so important; they can catch cavities before they become a big deal, saving you both money and pain.
My cavities only affect me.
As strange as it sounds, your cavities can affect your entire family. When you share food or drinks with your family members or friends, cavity-causing bacteria can be spread to their mouths. Anything that passes saliva between people, whether it’s sharing food or kissing, can help spread this bacteria. This increases your family and friends’ likelihood of getting cavities, especially in the case of young children who are still perfecting their oral hygiene routines and may be missing some spots regularly.
It doesn’t matter what I do; cavities run in my family.
Cavities themselves aren’t hereditary and can’t run in your family, but you can inherit traits that increase your risk for decay; these include crowded teeth and bad eating or oral hygiene habits. The bacteria can also be spread around by sharing food and drinks. Despite this, a few simple changes to your routine are usually enough to protect you from decay. If your teeth are very crowded, you may need to undergo orthodontic treatment anyway, which would make your teeth much easier to clean. Aside from that, adopting a healthier diet and a great oral hygiene routine should help you avoid most cavities.
Cavities in baby teeth aren’t a big deal.
It’s easy to assume that cavities in baby teeth aren’t a big deal—after all, children will just grow an adult set before too long. The truth, however, is that cavities in baby teeth can be a very big deal. Not only are cavities more likely to become infected in children, but they can cause long-term problems with their adult teeth. If decay causes a baby tooth to fall out too soon, the adult tooth can shift and begin to grow in the wrong place. The best way to avoid this is to introduce your children to a proper oral hygiene routine at an early age.
Oral hygiene isn’t necessary for babies.
While babies don’t have any teeth to clean, they do have gums that need to be kept healthy. Bacteria and plaque can still form and hang out as a film on your baby’s gums, so oral hygiene is important for keeping the gums healthy and for helping your baby develop healthy baby teeth. You should start caring for your baby’s gums right away, using a soft, damp cloth to wipe their gums at least twice a day. If your baby will tolerate it, it’s a good idea to try to do this after meals and before you lay them down at night.
I haven’t had a cavity in years, so a checkup is unnecessary.
While your past history of cavities is a good indicator as to whether or not you’ll get cavities in the future, it doesn’t mean you’re immune to them; a lot can change over just a few months, whether it’s medication that makes you more prone to decay or a busy schedule that’s left you skimping on your oral hygiene routine.
It’s important to visit your dentist every six months so they can identify any problems early. In addition to spotting any cavities you may have, your dental team can inform you of problem spots (which you can begin to treat vigorously to prevent cavities), recommend special mouthwashes or toothpastes, and warn you about the presence of gingivitis. The cleaning that you will receive during your exam is a great preventative measure, removing hardened tartar that you simply can’t remove at home. Even if you haven’t had a single problem with your teeth or gums in years, going to your regularly scheduled appointments is the best way to keep yourself problem-free, and will save you the time and money involved in coming back for fillings.
While all of the misconceptions around maintaining oral health may make it sound complicated, prevention only involves a small time investment and a few dietary and lifestyle changes that are good for your overall health, as well as your oral health. Whether it’s at-home cleanings or regular trips to the dentist, prevention is the best way to keep your mouth healthy.