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A world without tooth decay

Posted: Thursday, February 04, 2010

Today's children can live a life without cavities if they avoid the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Tooth decay is the result of an infection caused by bacteria, which can be spread from person to person. Nearly 500 types of bacteria are found in saliva, but dentists now know that only about seven types of bad bacteria can cause tooth decay. Dentists can get rid of bad bacteria before they have a chance to infect your teeth by using antimicrobial rinses (which kill bad bacteria), fluoride varnishes (which make teeth more resistant to decay), protective sealants (to cover grooves in teeth), Xylitol gum or mints, and recommending healthy diets.

Knowing the cause of tooth decay makes it easier to fight. Dentists first identify each patient's risk level for developing tooth decay, and high-risk patients receive special treatment. Any teeth with cavities are filled to eliminate the bacterial nest. Then the patient's mouth is treated with rinses and varnishes to keep tooth decay from coming back.

Children aren't born with the bad bacteria, but bad bacteria can be spread to them from their moms, caregivers or playmates. To keep from exposing kids to bad bacteria, do not share drinks, eating utensils or toothbrushes. Pregnant women should have dental check-ups to make sure they have no bad bacteria to spread. Infants should start regular check-ups as soon as their first teeth begin to come in. All children and adults should get regular check-ups and fluoride treatments, avoid eating sugary foods, and make sure they brush and floss each day.

If found early, we can stop tooth decay before it causes cavities. Treatments are more frequent for high-risk patients, but rinses and varnishes are easier than fillings or root canals.

• Dr. Thomas Bornstein, DDS, is the Director of Dental Services for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. February is National Children's Dental Health Month, and this article tells how children can go through life without cavities if they get proper dental care.



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