Oral and Overall Health
Information for Parents of School-Age Children
You probably know that a dental cavity is a hole in a tooth. But did you know that a cavity is the result of the tooth decay process that happens over time? Did you know that you can interrupt and even reverse this process to avoid a cavity?
What's inside our mouths?
Our mouths are full of bacteria. Hundreds of different types live on our teeth, gums, tongue and other places in our mouths. Some bacteria are helpful. But some can be harmful such as those that play a role in the tooth decay process.
Tooth decay is the result of an infection with certain types of bacteria that use sugars in food to make acids. Over time, these acids can make a cavity in the tooth.
What goes on inside our mouths all day?
Throughout the day, a tug of war takes place inside our mouth
On one team are dental plaque—a sticky, colorless film of bacteria—plus foods and drinks that contain sugar or starch (such as milk, bread, cookies, candy, soda, juice, and many others). Whenever we eat or drink something that contains sugar or starch, the bacteria use them to produce acids. These acids begin to eat away at the tooth's hard outer surface, or enamel.
On the other team are the minerals in our saliva (such as calcium and phosphate) plus fluoride from toothpaste, water, and other sources. This team helps enamel repair itself by replacing minerals lost during an "acid attack." Our teeth go through this natural process of losing minerals and regaining minerals all day long.
How does a cavity develop?
When a tooth is exposed to acid frequently — for example, if you eat or drink often, especially foods or drinks containing sugar and starches — the repeated cycles of acid attacks cause the enamel to continue to lose minerals. A white spot may appear where minerals have been lost. This is a sign of early decay.
Tooth decay can be stopped or reversed at this point. Enamel can repair itself by using minerals from saliva, and fluoride from toothpaste or other sources.
But if the tooth decay process continues, more minerals are lost. Over time, the enamel is weakened and destroyed, forming a cavity. A cavity is permanent damage that a dentist has to repair with a filling
How can we help teeth win the tug of war and avoid a cavity?
Fluoride is a mineral that can prevent tooth decay from progressing. It can even reverse, or stop, early tooth decay. Fluoride works to protect teeth. It . . .
You can get fluoride by:
If your dentist thinks you need more fluoride to keep your teeth healthy, he or she may—
Keep an eye on how often your child eats, as well as what she eats.
Your child's diet is important in preventing a cavity. Remember . . . every time we eat or drink something that contains sugar or starches, bacteria in our mouth use the sugar and starch to produce acids. These acids begin to eat away at the tooth's enamel.
Our saliva can help fight off this acid attack. But if we eat frequently throughout the day — especially foods and drinks containing sugar and starches — the repeated acid attacks will win the tug of war, causing the tooth to lose minerals and eventually develop a cavity.
That's why it's important to keep an eye on how often your children eat as well as what they eat.
About Bottled Water
Most bottled water does not contain enough fluoride to prevent tooth decay. If your child drinks only bottled water, talk with a dentist or doctor about whether your child needs additional fluoride in the form of a tablet, varnish, or gel.
Make sure your child brushes
Here's what you should know about brushing:
Talk to a dentist about sealants
Dental sealants are another good way to help avoid a cavity. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted onto the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, or molars. Here's why sealants are helpful: The chewing surfaces of back teeth are rough and uneven because they have small pits and grooves. Food and bacteria can get stuck in the pits and grooves and stay there a long time because toothbrush bristles can't easily brush them away. Sealants cover these surfaces and form a barrier that protects teeth and prevents food and bacteria from getting trapped there.
Since most cavities in children and adolescents develop in the molars (the back teeth), it's best to get these teeth sealed as soon as they come in:
Take your child to the dentist for regular check-ups
Visit a dentist regularly for cleanings and an examination. During the visit the dentist or hygienist will:
NIDCR would like to thank Dr. Margherita Fontana, an expert in cariology at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, for scientific review of this material.
This information is not copyrighted. Print and make as many photocopies as you need.
Content from :
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
National Institutes of Health,
Bethesda, MD 20892-2190
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