In a government survey conducted in 2012, researchers found that about 91 percent of adults had cavities in their permanent teeth. Tooth decay, the condition that eventually results in a cavity, is exceedingly common. Yet, many adults don't quite understand how tooth decay progresses or how they can prevent it. Read on to discover this vital information so you can better protect your dental health.

How Tooth Decay Occurs

Most people realize that sugar is bad for their teeth, but the idea that sugar directly causes tooth decay is a bit of a misconception. It's actually a little more complicated than that. Tooth decay can be broken down into a three-step process.

1. Bacteria Feed on Sugar

You have bacteria in your mouth all of the time. Brushing and flossing removes some of them, but even when your mouth is as clean as can be, there is some bacteria present. When you eat or drink something sugary, some of the sugar gets left behind in your mouth, and the oral bacteria feed on the sugar.

Even starchy foods, like crackers and bread, can be a source of nutrition for oral bacteria since enzymes in your mouth break the starches down into sugars.

2. Bacteria Release Acid

When the bacteria feed on sugar, they release acid. The sugar meal also encourages bacteria to replicate, so you soon have more bacteria — which are capable of secreting even more acid. The acid, sugar, bacteria, and saliva in your mouth combine to form a soft substance called plaque, which is what you're brushing away when you brush your teeth. 

3. Acid Wears Away Tooth Enamel

The acid in the plaque is actually what causes tooth decay. Acid slowly wears away your enamel, making it thinner in certain spots. Even at this early stage, wearing away of the enamel by bacterial-secreted acid is known as tooth decay. When the decay progresses to the point that it extends through the tooth enamel, which is the hard outer layer of your teeth, then it is called a cavity. 

How to Stop Tooth Decay in Its Tracks

There is no way to reverse or repair a cavity once it has formed. However, you can do plenty of things to stop tooth decay in the very beginning stages or to prevent tooth decay from happening in the first place. 

Manage Dry Mouth Symptoms

Saliva helps rinse bacteria and the acids they secrete off of your teeth. Without enough saliva, the acid stays in contact with your teeth for longer, increasing your risk of decay. Many people have dry mouth — a lack of saliva — and don't even realize it or realize that it increases their risk of tooth decay. If you often feel cotton-mouthed or have trouble eating dry foods, you may have dry mouth.

Dry mouth is a common side effect of certain medications, such as antihistamines and antianxiety drugs. It may also be caused by autoimmune disorders. If you think your dry mouth can be attributed to one of these issues, work with your doctor to come up with ways to better manage it.

You can also use a hydrating oral rinse, sip water throughout the day, and chew sugar-free gum to keep your mouth moist and help fight tooth decay.

Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Even if you avoid soda and candy, you may be eating more sugar than you realize. The following are some foods that are surprisingly high in sugar.

  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Fruit juices
  • Sports drinks
  • Granola
  • Iced tea
  • Protein and cereal bars

Pay closer attention to food labels, and try to avoid, as much as possible, foods that contain added sugars. The less sugar you eat, the less decay you'll experience. 

Brush and Floss More Thoroughly

Making sure you brush twice a day and floss daily is only the first step. You must also make sure you're brushing and flossing as thoroughly as possible. Set a timer for two minutes to make sure you are not cutting your brushing sessions short, and spend 30 seconds on each quadrant of your mouth.

When flossing, make a C shape around the base of each tooth. Use waxed floss, which slides in and out more easily without fraying. Many cavities occur between the teeth and at the gum line, so removing plaque from these areas is crucial.

Use Fluoridated Toothpaste

Patients are increasingly choosing all-natural toothpastes, which would be fine, except for the fact that many of these toothpastes do not contain fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that helps keep your tooth enamel hard and resistant to bacterial decay.

Read your toothpaste label carefully, and make sure you're using one that contains fluoride. All toothpastes that carry the ADA seal of approval contain fluoride.

Now that you know a bit more about the tooth decay process, you can do a better job of keeping your teeth strong and healthy. In addition to following the tips above, make sure you see your dentist for regular cleaning appointments. Contact All Valley Dental today to schedule your appointment.