While you may think of tooth decay as some absolute, unstoppable process once it starts, there are actually many factors that can mitigate the problem. You’ve probably been led to believe that once there’s decay, or caries, the only thing left to do is to drill out the tooth and introduce an artificial material to serve as a filling. The truth is, it’s more complicated than that, and your treatment options vary depending on when you discover the problem, and how committed you are to fixing it.
Caries vs Cavities
You’re probably heard of cavities, but have you heard of dental caries? While these words are very similar, there is an important difference between them. Cavities refer to permanent damage done to the tooth, which occurs when the protective outer layers have been stripped away long enough for harmful bacteria and other substances to bore into the softer material inside the tooth. Caries, on the other hand, refer to the stripping of these outer layers, before the damage is permanent. Exercising proper dental hygiene at the onset of dental caries can prevent the development of cavities.
Flossing and brushing are definitely a huge part of dental health, and should be done regularly; in small doses, it is said that fluoride can be helpful, but with proper mouth hygiene, it is not necessary. Instead, you should focus on building other habits to protect your teeth. If you are flossing and brushing, but still find yourself concerned about cavities, you should consider picking up (or dropping) the following habits to further improve your oral health and prevent tooth decay and the development of cavities.
Oil pulling is a rather old technique that is thought to be effective in boosting overall health, though most specifically dental health. Essentially, you can think of the practice of oil pulling as a natural alternative (or complement) to mouthwash. The use of specific kinds of oil can hinder the growth of bacteria and help to remove them from the mouth, and it may also freshen the breath in the process. Keep in mind that the following practice is to be repeated daily as part of oral hygiene, and to be done on an empty stomach. Here’s what to do:
- Take a tablespoon of sesame, sunflower, or coconut oil, and put it in your mouth.
- Swish the oil around in your mouth, like you would mouthwash, for five minutes to twenty minutes. If you’re a beginner, start small and work your way up to the twenty minutes.
- Spit out the pulling oil, and then rinse out your mouth using warm water. Instead of regular water, you may also use warm salt water.
- Afterwards, brush your teeth as you usually would.
Sugar and You
If you’re already developing cavities or tooth decay, you need to take better care with how you consume sugar. While cutting down on the amount of sugar you consume is certainly helpful, the real concern is actually how frequently you consume sugar on a daily basis. Sugar is a food source for bacteria in the mouth, and constant sugary exposure due to frequent snacking can encourage bacterial growth. Sugar can also damage your teeth directly by demineralizing your enamel. Cut down on the sugary foods and drinks that you eat, and make sure you do not engage in frequent snacking.
You’re probably aware that calcium helps build strong bones. It also contributes to tooth health, because it, along with a number of other vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus, which likewise contributes to tooth enamel, and folic acid, which helps prevent gum disease. Foods rich in calcium and other important nutrients include leafy greens like spinach, kale, and chard, certain dairy products such as cheese, as well as fish. You may also turn to fortified cereals and grains that have been enriched with calcium, although natural sources are superior as a general rule of thumb.
Ultimately, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the adage goes. This is especially true when it comes to dental health, where taking the right steps can prevent the need for expensive and painful dental procedures. Proper dental hygiene will go a long way in keeping your teeth and gums healthy, while preventative habits will help to reduce dental caries and tooth decay by reducing the bacteria your teeth need to fight off and increasing the resources they have to do so.