One thing that every patient hopes to hear at the end of a dental exam is that they don't have any cavities. Fortunately, there are several things that patients can do to reduce or eliminate the prospect of getting them. The easiest way to prevent cavities is by brushing your teeth at least three times a day -- especially after eating and before bed -- and flossing once a day. You should brush with a soft bristled toothbrush, and angle the bristles about 45 degrees toward the gum line. Brush for about the length of one song on the radio (three minutes). It's also a good idea to ask your dentist or hygienist to help you with proper brushing methods.
Reducing the amount and frequency of eating sugary foods can reduce the risk of forming cavities. If you are going to drink a can of sweetened soda, it is better to drink it in one sitting rather than sip it throughout the day. Better yet, drink it through a straw in one sitting to bypass the teeth altogether. Visiting the dentist at least twice a year is also critical for a dental exam and dental cleanings.
Another way to reduce the incidence of cavities is to use a toothpaste and mouthwash that contain fluoride. Fluoride is a compound that is added to most tap water supplies, toothpastes and mouth rinses to reduce cavities. Fluoride can reverse the progress of early cavities and sometimes prevents the need for fillings in the future.
The recent drop in the number of cavities is largely due to the addition of fluoride to our drinking water. Mass water fluoridation is the most cost-effective measure available to reduce the incidence of tooth decay. If you live in an area that does not have fluoride in the water or are very susceptible to cavities, your dentist can use highly concentrated, in-office fluoride treatments and prescribe a fluoride supplement, either as a gel, in tablets or drops. In some cases, customized trays can be used while you sleep to deliver higher doses of fluoride and help strengthen teeth to prevent cavities.
A dental procedure called sealants can also help reduce cavities on the top and sides of back teeth. A sealant is a white resin material that blankets the tooth, protecting the vulnerable grooves of the tooth. Sealants are routinely placed on children's teeth to prevent cavities on their newly developing molars. The use of sealants can also be a cost-effective way to reduce the incidence of cavities on adults as well. Sealants are generally not used on teeth that already have fillings. People who have a dry mouth may be at increased risk for developing cavities, and can have their dentist prescribe artificial saliva and mouth moisturizers as well as recommend chewing sugarless gum to stimulate saliva production. Finally, a prescription antiseptic mouthwash containing chlorhexidine gluconate such as Peridex® can also be useful in killing bacteria associated with cavities.
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