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Preventing tooth decay

Effective tooth brushing and flossing is the main way to help prevent tooth decay. Avoiding some foods and drink can also help protect the teeth from attack.

Tooth decay occurs when foods containing the sugars and starches found in carbohydrates such as breads, cereals, milk, fizzy drinks, fruits, cakes or sweets, are left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth digest these foods, turning them into acids. The bacteria, acid, food debris and saliva combine to form plaque, which clings to the teeth. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel surface of the teeth, creating holes in the teeth called cavities.

Tips to help prevent tooth decay

To help prevent tooth decay:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Wait for half an hour after a meal before brushing to avoid damaging the teeth, especially after eating food high in carbohydrates or sugar.
  • Clean between your teeth daily with dental floss or interdental cleaners.
  • Use a fluoride mouthwash at a different time to tooth brushing, and avoid eating or drinking for 30 minutes after using mouthwash.
  • Check with your dentist about use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth.
  • Ask your dentist about dental sealants, which is a plastic protective coating applied to the chewing surfaces of your back teeth (molars) to protect them from decay.
  • Visit your dentist as regularly as advised for check-ups and see a dental hygienist for professional cleaning.
  • Chewing sugar-free gum after eating produces more saliva to help neutralise acid in the mouth.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 23, 2016

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