Something to Chew On: Keeping Those Pearlies Healthy
Another key prevention move is having your dentist apply dental "sealant," a plastic film that coats the chewing surfaces of teeth. The sealant prevents decay from sprouting in the nooks and crannies of teeth, where fluoride is less effective on food debris and bacteria.
Sugar was a primo dental health villain back when fluoridation wasn't as widespread. But sugar consumption in this country has been on the rise even as dental caries has declined, notes Brian Burt, PhD, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor.
That doesn't mean reach for the sweets, but Burt said that if an individual has strong exposure to fluoride, sugar is a "moderate-to-mild" risk factor, "not the most crucial aspect" of prevention.
Tinanoff also notes that there is "good evidence" that chewing gum with xylitol (a type of sugar) actually reduces caries in children's teeth.
And there are other, more fanciful ideas in the hopper.
Peter Milgrom, DDS, of the University of Washington, referred to new electric toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes that come with timers and beep if not opened every day. And there's also the thought of making toothpaste tubes that send email to your dentist if it is not opened often enough.
Back to Earth -- How about treating those cavities?
It's still primarily "drill and fill," a basic treatment model that hasn't changed in 100 years, says Amid Ismail, BDS, of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Science may bring further advances, however.
"Some of our more basic research is looking at how we could even take extensively diseased teeth and apply biomimetic materials -- materials that mimic biology -- and be able to regenerate tooth structure," Kleinman says.