Tooth decay seems to be practically inevitable. About 91% of U.S. adults, between the age of 20 and 64, have or have had tooth decay. Once adults reach the age of 65, that number jumps to 96%. Tooth decay is a common problem, affecting more than 9 out of 10 Americans at some point during their lifetime. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stave it off. In fact, most people can reverse and/or prevent tooth decay with proper oral care practices.
As with most things, tooth decay doesn’t happen all at once. It advances in stages: white spots, enamel decay, dentin decay, pulp involvement, the formation of an abscess and tooth loss.
White spots, the earliest sign of tooth decay, can be reversed at home. What exactly are white spots? They are spots where minerals have been leached out of the enamel through frequent acid exposure. Once mineral loss reaches a critical point, the enamel is destroyed. This is a cavity.
White spots can be reversed and a cavity may be avoided if you can restore the mineral loss so acting fast is key. It may help to apply fluoride from dental treatments, toothpaste or other sources. Saliva may even play a role. However, you cannot allow the acid erosion and depletion to continue if you want to avoid that cavity so take up a regimen of rinsing and preventative measures right away. Combat acid erosion by avoiding sweets and acidic foods or rinsing right after eating them. It's also important to correct existing issues with acid reflux and dry mouth. Brush regularly with a soft-bristled brush, and rinse your mouth often throughout the day.
Once tooth decay advances beyond white spots, you must see a dentist to correct the issue. Lesions, cracks, breaks, pain, chewing issues, swelling and infection are all signs that you cannot reverse your tooth decay on your own.
Keep in mind that it will get more difficult for a dentist to correct the issue and/or save the tooth as the decay progresses. It’s always better to see a dentist early on, rather than putting it off.
You’ve heard the saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Well, it's true. It’s far better to prevent tooth decay than to try to reverse it, either yourself or with the help of a dentist.
The Mayo Clinic recommends the following these oral hygiene tips for preventing tooth decay:
We can all take steps to prevent and reverse early tooth decay at home, but we'll be more successful by visiting a dentist. Regular fluoride treatments, cleanings and screenings can dramatically improve oral health and reduce the chances of developing tooth decay. In between visits, do all you can at home to keep your oral health in tip-top shape — and watch out for those white spots.
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