Key Takeaways

  • Tooth decay eats away at the enamel that protects your teeth.
  • Cavities are holes that form in the enamel.
  • You can lower the risk of cavities by brushing and flossing every day.
  • Regular dental check-ups can catch cavities when they’re small and easier to treat.

Every tooth is covered by a hard, protective outer layer called enamel. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on your teeth. These bacteria feed on the sugars and starches left behind after meals and produce acids that attack tooth enamel. If you don’t remove the plaque on your teeth, it will build up and the acids will continue to eat away at your enamel. This is when cavities can form.

Cavities (or caries) are little holes that form in the enamel. If left untreated, a cavity will grow, and eventually, bacteria can get into the soft tissue of the inner tooth. That can lead to pain, infection and more serious treatment, such as a root canal.

That’s why regular dental check-ups are important. Your dentist can spot a cavity when it’s small and stop it from getting bigger by giving you a filling.

How to prevent cavities

There’s a reason why you’re told to brush and floss daily! By removing plaque from your teeth every day, you can reduce your risk of tooth decay. Here’s the quick rundown on preventing cavities.

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Wait about 30 minutes after eating before you brush so you don’t damage the enamel on your teeth. Acid levels in your mouth rise when you eat, so waiting after a meal lets your saliva wash away food particles and return your mouth to a normal pH level. (Enamel can also wear away if your brush your teeth too hard.)
  • Floss every day! Floss removes food debris and plaque from the areas between your teeth, where your toothbrush can’t reach. Brushing alone only cleans two-thirds of the tooth’s surface.
  • Limit sugary food and drinks. Choose tooth-friendly snacks like veggies, nuts or cheese. When you have something sugary, try swishing with water to rinse out your mouth or chew sugar-free gum.
  • Stay hydrated with water. Dry mouth can speed up the cavity-making process by letting damaging sugars and acids from food and drinks linger in the mouth. Some medications can also cause dry mouth, be sure to drink plenty of flat water throughout the day and evening.

Brushing and Flossing

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