Tooth decay is caused by bacteria. Bacteria use the sugars and foods that you eat to produce acid. This acid slowly removes the minerals from teeth, and a cavity is formed.
There are several ways to prevent cavities from forming, and keeping existing cavities from getting bigger:
The most important step you can take is flossing. Flossing is the only way to remove bacteria from between the teeth, where a majority of preventable decay takes place.
The next step is fluoride. Fluoride, used as a topical rinse, can replace the minerals that acids remove, and make teeth stronger. Fluoride is most effective when used following flossing, when the tooth surface is the cleanest, and the fluoride can penetrate the tooth surface more efficiently. Diet plays a large part in decay. Reducing the sugar intake gives the bacteria less food with which to make acid. Candy, soda and other refined sugars are easily digested by the bacteria, and turned into acid. Drinks with high acid content (soda for example) lower the acid balance in the whole mouth, making mineral removal from the teeth easier.
After eating or drinking, there is about a twenty to thirty minute window when decay can occur. This is how long it takes saliva in the mouth to dilute the sugar and acid just consumed. That window starts from the time you are finished eating or drinking. If you snack or slowly sip on a drink for an extended period of time, your mouth and teeth are constantly within the window of decay. To narrow the window of decay, try and consume your food or beverage all at once. Swishing some water in your mouth after you are done will help speed up the dissolving of sugar and acid in food or drink.
If your jaw joint allows, chewing sugarless gum after meals will greatly reduce the window of decay by stimulating saliva production and the movement of saliva in the mouth. Xylitol, a component of some sugarless gum, has been shown to be healthy for teeth and help in cavity prevention.
If decay has been diagnosed, it is imperative that x-rays be taken on a regular basis. Once decay penetrates the enamel, it can grow very quickly. The larger the decay, the faster it will increase in size and depth. Let us know if you have any questions about any of this information.