10 Things Dentists Always Do to Prevent Tooth Decay

Updated: Jul. 20, 2020

Tooth decay can make for complicated, expensive, and painful dental visits. Here's what dentists do to stay out of the dental chair.

How to prevent tooth decay like a dentist

It’s no secret that what you eat affects your dental health. The sweet cup of coffee or the powdered sugar doughnut you have for breakfast can actually lead to cavities, also known as tooth decay. Cavities are common, even if you do follow good oral hygiene. (This is the toothbrushing mistake everyone makes.) So, how can prevent tooth decay? The dentists we spoke with provide their tips to keep your teeth healthy and cavity-free, from using fluoride toothpaste to opting for high-fiber foods.

Toothbrush and toothpaste

Use a fluoride toothpaste

Lana Rozenberg, DDS, a board-certified cosmetical dentist at Rozenberg Dental NYC, recommends giving your toothpaste label a read to make sure it contains fluoride. “Fluoride toothpaste protects from demineralization—which is when bacteria in the mouth combine with sugars to produce acid,” she says. “This acid can erode tooth enamel and damage our teeth.” (These are the 8 ways you’ve been brushing your teeth wrong.)

Dental care tools
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Brush your teeth twice a day with an electric toothbrush

Scott Asnis, DDS, the founder and CEO of Dental365 in New Hyde Park, New York, explains that keeping your pearly whites clean will ward off nasty bacteria. Dr. Asnis says studies have proven that electric toothbrushes clean teeth significantly better than regular ones. “Most electric toothbrushes have features that prevent brushing too hard, which, in turn, prevents accidentally damaging teeth and gums and causing gum recession,” he notes. “As gums recede, the roots of the teeth become exposed resulting in hot and cold sensitivity, bone loss, and an increased risk of dental caries.” For the best at-home teeth cleaning, here are the best electric toothbrushes, according to top dentists.

Set of dentist tools on wooden background
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See your dentist at least once a year

Do fear going to the dentist? You’re not alone. You should bring up this concern with your dentist (or find a new one), recommends dentist Haissam Dahan, DMD with limited practice in temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and sleep apnea management at Ottawa TMJ & Sleep Apnea Clinic in Ontario. “By going to your dentist regularly, they can find small or new cavities and offer treatments that can prevent cavities from getting bigger. These options can be a fluoride treatment, sealants to prevent cavities from growing, or using silver diamine fluoride which can stop cavities from growing.” (Check out these 37 secrets your dentist won’t tell you.)

close up of woman's smile
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Consider a sealant

If you’ve had countless fillings and root canals, you might want to consider a sealant that protects your teeth from bacteria. Robert Bryce, DDS, of Aesthetic Dentistry in Potomac Falls, Virginia, suggests talking to your dentist about applying a resin to the grooves of your teeth; this is an occlusal sealant, and it makes it tougher for bacteria to take up residence. (Here’s what dentists want you to know about affordable dental care.)

Assorted pharmaceutical medicine pills, tablets and capsules over blue background

Be mindful of medications

Your prescriptions can have some unexpected side effects, like harming your teeth, warns oral surgeon and author Ira Kamp, DDS, Integrative Oral Health in Ithaca, New York. He recommends paying extra attention to your dental health when you get a new prescription. “Most medications cause dry mouth, and a dry mouth makes you more prone to cavities,” he says. “If you are taking medications that dry your mouth, practice thorough oral hygiene several times a day including after you eat, drink plenty of water, and talk to your doctor about your medications.” (Check out these healthy habits that actually damage your teeth.)

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Eat healthy food with low sugar

Do your belly and your mouth a favor by cutting back on the sweet treats. Dr. Rozenberg says low-sugar, healthy food helps ward away the plaque that wrecks the enamel on your teeth. “Each time you eat a sugary snack, your teeth are under siege for the next 20 minutes,” she says. (These are the foods that are worse for your teeth than candy.)

Dental floss and toothbrush on a blue background
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Floss once a day

Yes, it’s a pain to wiggle floss between each of your teeth every day. Dr. Asnis has a saying: “You only have to floss the teeth you want to keep.” Flossing prevents bone loss and cavities in the dark recesses of your molars that your toothbrush can’t reach. If you’re an adult and still can’t figure out how to use floss, don’t sweat it and take this advice instead: “Take a longer piece than you think you need, wrap it around your pinkie and ring fingers to hold the floss while using your thumb and index fingers to better control the floss,” he recommends. (Flossing is just one of the many golden rules of having a bright healthy smile.)

milk bottle in the box

Add more calcium to your diet

You already know that calcium helps strengthen your bones, but did you know it can help prevent tooth decay? (Teeth are actually stronger than bones, after all.) Dr. Rozenberg says this essential mineral is vital for your smile; make sure your diet has plenty of milk and yogurt, leafy greens like broccoli and bok choy, canned fish with bones, almonds, and Brazil nuts. (On the flip side, don’t miss these foods dentists never eat—so you shouldn’t either.)

Plastic bottle of mouthwash on white background

Use mouthwash

Before you hit the sack or head out the door for the day, take a swish of fluoride mouthwash to cleanse all the nooks-and-crannies that you can’t get to on your own, recommends Dr. Asnis. Fluoride rinses help build up your enamel (that’s especially helpful if you happen to have sensitive teeth). “Research shows alcohol and alcohol-free mouthwashes are both very effective at removing plaque and the bacteria that produce it,” he explains. (Here’s what else your dentist wishes you would do differently.)

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Choose high-fiber foods

Fiber is vital for digestion and your heart; it can also help fight tooth decay, says Dr. Rozenberg. You can get fiber from supplements, she says, but you can also shift your diet to include more high-fiber foods. “Good sources include dried fruits such as dates, raisins, and figs, and fresh fruits, like bananas, apples, and oranges. Other options include veggies, such as beans, Brussels sprouts, and peas, along with peanuts, almonds, and bran,” she explains.  (Learn about the body diseases your teeth reveal.)