People generally go to the dentist when they have tooth decay, or suspect they might have tooth decay. And indeed, a big part of a dentist's job is treating decaying teeth with fillings, crowns, and other treatments. But most dentists—especially family dentists—would rather help you prevent tooth decay in the first place. They'll do this by urging you to brush and floss more often, but also with the following services.
Prophylaxis is your standard dental cleaning. It involves the removal of all traces of tartar from your teeth. Tartar is the hard gunk that can accumulate on your teeth if you don't brush away plaque as often or as thoroughly as you should. Since tartar harbors oral bacteria, its presence increases your risk of developing tooth decay. When your dentist removes tartar from your teeth, they are helping to guard against cavities and decay. Most of this work is done by scraping the tartar away with a pick, but these days, some dentists do this with a powerful water jet.
Fluoride is a mineral that you need for healthy teeth. But you don't just have to eat it; your teeth need to be in contact with it. The teeth take up some of the fluoride they are exposed to and use it to strengthen their enamel. The harder your tooth enamel, the less likely you are to ever develop cavities.
If you use fluoridated toothpaste and drink fluoridated water, you're exposing your teeth to some fluoride, but it may still not be enough. A dentist can administer a fluoride treatment during which they'll have you bite down into a tray containing a concentrated fluoride solution. This will help toughen up your enamel, giving you long-lasting protection from decay.
Decay is pretty common in the back molars, which have deep grooves that grab onto plaque and oral bacteria. It's sometimes hard to brush these areas thoroughly. A dentist can apply something called sealants to the back teeth. Sealants start as a liquid that cures into plastic. The plastic forms a barrier between your tooth and oral bacteria so they can't get stuck in those grooves and cause decay.
If you want to be better about preventing tooth decay and cavities, talk to your dentist about these treatments. They may recommend one or more of them for you, depending on your unique dental care needs.
Contact a local dentist to learn more.