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Most people know that brushing and flossing are important to prevent dental problems, but in this age of soda, coffee, sports drinks, and bottled water, that’s just not enough for healthy teeth. Just as healthy habits can help protect your body against disease, healthy dental habits can safeguard against tooth decay and help avert other dental problems as well.

How Tooth Decay Happens

Tooth decay occurs from the buildup of plaque acids on your teeth. After eating a meal or snack, bacteria in your mouth start working (they’re especially fond of meals that contain carbohydrates and sugars) and break down leftover particles of food, which produces acids. The acids then combine with debris in the mouth to form a sticky substance called plaque. Plaque tends to deposit on molars and near the gum line of teeth.

Plaque acids build up quickly, within 20 minutes after eating, and can be destructive to your dental health. Plaque continues to harbor these acids and is the leading cause of periodontal disease, or gum disease. Acids make the enamel of the tooth weaker. If the weakened tooth continues to decay, then a hole, called a tooth cavity, will form. If a cavity is left untreated, the tooth decay will continue, and the cavity will enlarge. An abscess, or infection, may develop, and eventually, the tooth can be destroyed.

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Here are six healthy habits to prevent tooth decay and promote healthy teeth:

1. Brush frequently. Once a day won’t cut it: Every morning and every night is the minimum to maintain healthy teeth and prevent dental problems. It’s even better to continually get rid of food particles that lead to tooth decay throughout the day. The key is to drink or eat your meals or snacks and then brush very soon after. If that is not possible, rinse with water or chew a sugar-free gum to help reduce the plaque and lower the acidity of your mouth. You should also use toothpaste that contains fluoride, which strengthens teeth and protects them against decay.

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