http://www.whatdoctorsknow.com

Cavities are practically a given today and no age or ethnic group seems to be immune.

Cavities, or tooth decay, start when plaque forms on the teeth. Plaque is the sticky substance that forms on teeth and combines with the sugars and/or starches in the foods we eat. This combination produces acids that attack tooth enamel. If we don't develop a sensible daily dental health plan, the result can be cavities. Left too long, you can face tooth loss, root canal surgery and other problems.

Tooth decay is the second most prevalent disease in the United States, with the common cold earning top honors. Fortunately, cavities can be easily prevented, while a common cold has no cure; only comforting from a mother's love, chicken soup and rest.

The mouth can be a busy place for bacteria, those tiny colonies of living organisms constantly moving on your teeth, gums, lips and tongue. Of course, bacteria in the mouth is normal, and while some bacteria can be harmful, most are not. Some are even helpful. We do have to worry about bacteria that attach to hard surfaces in the mouth, including the enamel covering your teeth. If it isn't removed, the bacteria will multiply and grow in number until a colony forms.

Once a colony is established, more bacteria of different types attach to the colony already on the tooth enamel. Proteins in saliva mix in and the bacteria colony becomes a whitish film on the tooth. This film is called plaque, and it's what causes cavities.

So how do you avoid plaque and the cavities it can cause? Here are some simple tips:

1. Brush regularly

In the fight against cavities, it's essential that you brush your teeth properly at least twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride. As part of your brushing regime, make sure you brush long enough, in the right direction, etc. Check with your dentist or dental hygienist about proper brushing technique.

2. Floss daily

Food debris gets caught in between our teeth when we eat. If the debris is not removed, it can lead to cavities. Flossing every day is the best way to remove food debris from in between teeth. Some research shows that brushing and flossing can also lead to better heart health.

3. Eat healthy

Proper nutrition plays an important role in good dental health. Eating nutritional snacks and limiting sugary drinks helps prevent plaque from forming. Cut down on the amount of soda, artificial fruit juices and candy you consume. Good dental health can lead to overall good health.

4. Visit your dentist

Many cavities can only be detected by a dentist or a dental x-ray. Visiting your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings is the only way to find cavities in the early stages and prevent major oral issues such as tooth extractions, root canals, etc.

5. Have sealants applied

Dental sealants are protective coatings applied to the biting surfaces of the back teeth. They protect the teeth from cavities by shielding the surface against bacteria and plaque. Sealants are most commonly used for children.

6. Use a mouth rinse

There are several antimicrobial mouth rinses on the market clinically proven to reduce plaque. Ask your dentist what brand or type is best for your dental needs. Using one of these mouth rinses after brushing or eating can aid in cavity prevention.

7. Chew (sugarless) gum

Growing up, a lot of us were warned about the perils of chewing gum. All that has changed with the advent of certain sugarless gums that actually help promote dental health. In fact, chewing certain sugarless gums can actually help prevent cavities by increasing the flow of saliva in your mouth. In 2007, the American Dental Association awarded its Seal of Acceptance to Wrigley's Orbit, Eclipse and Extra chewing gums for helping prevent cavities.

START EARLY

As with any good health program, the earlier you start the better. Tooth decay can start when a child is only a few months old. Taking your infant to the dentist as early as six months is a great idea. And remember, preventative care is important at any age.

(Mark Newey, D.D.S., practices in Clearfield, Utah. He belongs to a number of organizations, including the American Oral and Maxillofacial Society, American Society of Dental Anesthesiologists, and the Weber District Dental Association.)

(WhatDoctorsKnow is a magazine devoted to up-to-the minute information on health issues from physicians, major hospitals and clinics, universities and health care agencies across the U.S. Online at http://www.whatdoctorsknow.com.)

(c) 2013 WHATDOCTORSKNOW.COM DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.