Cavities or tooth decay is the quiet demineralization of the hard surface of our teeth. These small holes in the teeth are not just the outcome of a high-sugar diet but also result from inadequate oral hygiene and daily habits that damage the tooth surface. Prevention hinges on a combination of a regular dental hygiene routine that includes fluoride, prudent dietary choices, and periodic professional dental check-ups.

What Is Tooth Decay and What Causes Cavities in Teeth?

Tooth decay often begins with deterioration of the tooth enamel, which is the hard, outer layer of our teeth.1 This decay occurs when the bacteria in the mouth produce acids after consuming sugars and starches. These acids can slowly demineralize the enamel, leading to the formation of small holes or openings known as cavities.2 Over time, if left untreated, these cavities can grow larger and affect deeper layers of the tooth, which might lead to more severe dental issues.3

Multiple factors contribute to enamel erosion and the development of cavities. Poor oral hygiene, such as irregular brushing and flossing, allows dental plaque to build up, increasing the risk of tooth decay. Frequent snacking and sipping on sugary or acidic drinks can continually bathe the teeth in enamel-damaging acids.1,2 Additionally, daily habits such as chewing on pens, using teeth as tools to open packages, and overwhitening can accelerate tooth enamel damage. Conditions like dry mouth, worn fillings or dental devices, or eating disorders may also lead to significant cavities.2

Common symptoms of tooth decay include toothache, persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth, sensitivity to hot or cold food and drinks, visible holes or pits in teeth, and white or brown stains on the surface of a tooth.1–3 Early detection and treatment are crucial for maintaining good oral health and preventing further damage. To gain more insight into the signs of cavities, visit Early Signs of Tooth Decay and Cavity Symptoms.

7 Ways to Stop Tooth Decay and Cavities

1. Visit Your Dentist for Regular Teeth Cleanings

Visiting your dental team for dental check-ups and cleanings regularly, as often as they recommend, is vital for maintaining oral health and preventing decay.2 Your dentist can identify and treat cavities early on, apply dental sealants, offer professional fluoride treatments, and provide personalized advice on how to improve your oral hygiene routine.4

2. Brush Your Teeth with a Fluoride Toothpaste

Brushing your teeth at least twice a day is crucial for maintaining oral health.2 It helps remove the bacterial film that constantly forms on your teeth, limiting the production of acids that can damage tooth enamel. Using a fluoride toothpaste, such as LISTERINE® ESSENTIAL CARE® Fluoride Anticavity Toothpaste, is beneficial as fluoride helps prevent tooth decay from worsening and restores lost minerals.

3. Flossing Daily

Flossing daily is essential for removing plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gumline, areas where a toothbrush cannot always reach and that are prone to plaque buildup and tooth decay. Using the correct flossing technique is crucial as incorrect flossing can increase your risk of gum injury.

4. Rinse Your Mouth Twice Daily with LISTERINE® Mouthwash

Incorporating a mouthwash rinse into your oral care routine can play a significant role in maintaining your oral health. Mouthwash reaches nearly 100% of your mouth, helping to clean areas that brushing and flossing may miss. Rinsing with a mouthwash like LISTERINE® TOTAL CARE Anticavity Fluoride Mouthwash can help prevent cavities, restore minerals to enamel, and strengthen teeth. Visit the Rinsing Guide for step-by-step instructions and tips to get the most out of your rinse.

5. Avoid Food and Drinks that Cause Tooth Decay

High-sugar and starchy foods, as well as sugary or acidic drinks, can significantly contribute to tooth decay. Sugars and starches feed bacteria that create enamel-disolving acid.2 To protect your teeth, limit your intake of sugary treats and consider healthier alternatives. Explore further at Foods and Drinks Harmful to Teeth.

On the other hand, certain foods can play a protective role in oral health, supporting the prevention of tooth decay and the restoration of enamel. Crunchy fruits and vegetables, dairy products rich in calcium, and water, especially when fluoridated, are all beneficial for maintaining strong teeth. For more insight into foods that can bolster the strength of your teeth, visit Foods for Strong Teeth.

6. Chew Sugarless Gum to Stimulate Saliva Flow

Chewing sugar-free gum, especially after meals, can increase saliva production.4 Saliva helps neutralize acid, remineralize enamel, and wash away food particles. Look for gum that contains the ADA seal of acceptance.

7. Drink Plenty of Tap Water

Water is essential not only for overall health but also for preventing tooth decay by washing away food particles and residues that bacteria could feed on. Most public water supplies contain added fluoride, which can help remineralize teeth and reverse early signs of tooth decay.2 Make water your beverage of choice, and try to rinse your mouth with water after meals or snacks when you cannot brush.