The Skinny on Cavity Prevention

Understanding cavities can help prevent them for you and your family.    A healthy body and lifestyle begins with your mouth and your smile.  A smile can make or break and interview, just like bad breath can prevent you from getting that first kiss.  To understand how to prevent cavities, we need to know exactly what they are.  We teamed up with Cosmetic Dentist Dr. Shelley Shearer to answer some of your common dental questions.

Skinny Mom: So what is a cavity?

Dr. Shearer: Bacteria is the cause of cavities or tooth decay.  To prevent cavities, you need to understand how they occur.  The naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth produce and aid that feeds off of the carbohydrates (sugars & starches) they find on the tooth surface.  So certain bacteria break down the sugars of what we eat and drink. As the acid stays on your tooth, it eats away at the tooth structure causing a hole or a cavity.

Skinny Mom: What is plaque?

Dr. Shearer: Plaque is a sticky coating of food and bacteria that adhere to the tooth. It forms on your teeth or is what doesn’t get removed with your toothbrush.   Yes, it’s that fuzzy stuff you see usually down along the gum line.  This plaque produces an acid dematerializes the hard enamel, which is the outer most layer of your teeth.  After some time, the acid will cause tiny holes to become bigger until it is one large hole or cavity.  While the acid is breaking down the enamel, you cannot feel any pain because there are not any nerves.  As the cavity eats thru the enamel and into the next layer of tooth structure, the dentin, the nerve will start to notice something is wrong and you may feel some sensitivity to cold, air and sugar.  The deeper the cavity gets the closer it gets to the nerve.  That’s why we encourage patients to get regular check-ups and cleanings and x-rays so we can detect and treat the cavities before they are painful, deep and expensive.

Skinny Mom: How do we prevent cavities?

Dr. Shearer: Saliva helps wash the teeth off while you are eating but that is certainly not enough.  Brushing and flossing correctly at least two times a day will help prevent.  A diet that is lower in sugars and acid will tremendously reduce your risk.  “Liquid Sugars” are the worst in my opinion.  These are usually drinks that are not only loaded with sugar but often times have acid added to them.  For instance, drinking coffee with sugar or tea sweetened with sugar all morning is not helping you out.  Soft drinks with sugar and citric acid is just a double doozy.  These are drinks like Snapple, Gatorade, Coke, Pepsi, Lemonade and flavored waters.  The zero calorie drinks that are sweetened with Splendid will decrease your chances of developing cavities.  These are drinks like G2, ICE and Diet soft drinks.  Don’t forget that due to the increase in diabetes in the USA there are several drinkable zero calorie beverages out there now.

Also a diet high in Calcium has proven to provide stronger enamel.  Try to include milk, cheese and yogurts in your diet and in your children’s daily nutrition.

Skinny Mom: What about cavity prevention in kids?

Dr. Shearer: Certainly all of the above apply to children.  Both milk and juice have sugar in them and certainly they are fine in moderation.  Remember to never put children to bed with anything but plain water and brush their teeth prior to putting them to bed.  As soon as your little ones first tooth arrives start brushing their teeth with a wash rag or small tooth brush. There is no need to use any tooth paste with Fluoride until your child will spit out the toothpaste.  By making sure that you are providing a good starting habit, you will help provide them with a lifelong of healthy habits.

According to Dr. Shearer, Cavities are is the number one preventible childhood disease.  Cavities in early childhood are a huge problem.  There are some statistics that show that cavities are present in half of all children by the age of three.  As a dentist these cavities can cause dental problems such as pain, infection, poor diet and nutrition, not to mention early fear of the dentist.  Prevention early on is the best way to reduce physical and emotional stress caused by cavities.

Below are Dr. Shearers general guidelines to prevent cavities:

  1. Brush your teeth 2-3 x days and do it correctly.  Brush the front and back of each tooth, along with the other side’s that you bite on and by your gums.
  2. Use supplemental dental products.  Use toothpaste recommended by the ADA and that has fluoride.  Use a commercial fluoride rinse 1 x day if you drink water that does not have fluoride, (this includes most bottled water).  Rinse with mouthwash after you brush and floss to decrease the bacteria.
  3. Remember to use fluoride-free toothpaste on children.  Once they can spit and not swallow the toothpaste, they can use toothpaste with fluoride.
  4. Children’s first visit to the dentist should be around a year old and definitely by the age of two.  This does not mean they will be compliant the first few times.    It is not necessary to see a pediatric dentist, but certainly a dentist that enjoys seeing kids.
  5. Floss every day and even better if you floss after every meal.  Your toothbrush cannot get in between your teeth to remove food, debris and bacteria.
  6. Decrease and avoid eating sugary foods.  Anything that contains sugar can promote bacteria to grow on your teeth.  Try to rinse your mouth and preferably brush your teeth after you eat something sugary.
  7. Seeyour regular dentist twice a year for checkups and professional cleanings. The x-rays can help the dentist prescribe any needed treatment before the cavities and disease gets too out of control.  This also saves you time, pain and money, not to mention prolonging the life of your teeth.
  8. Drink your milk.  A good source of calcium, provided by milk, dairy products like cheese and yogurts help build strong teeth throughout your lifetime.

About: Dr. Shelley Shearer attended the University of Kentucky for her undergraduate studies and then the University of Louisville for dental school.  Dr. Shearer has been nominated by her peers and Cincinnati Magazine as a Top Dentist and as Cincinnati’s 100 Wise Women by the National Association of Professional Women.  For more information about Dr. Shearer, to ask her a question, or book an appointment please visit her website at

Skinny Mom Fact: 38.5 = the total days an average American spends brushing teeth over a lifetime.