High caries: What is it and what does it mean to you?

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Once a year, if you are active duty, you make your way to the dental office for the dreaded annual "check-up" and cleaning. So what does it mean if your dentist tells you that you are at a high risk for caries? Caries is more commonly known as tooth decay, the destruction of the tooth layers called enamel and dentin. One fact about caries many people do not know is dental caries is the number one infectious disease world-wide. The bacterium causes dental caries is transferable via saliva from one person to another.

So what does it mean if you are placed on "high caries risk?" During your annual dental exam, your dentist will identify and diagnose carious lesions. If you have three or more lesions noted at your current exam, you are in the high caries group. Other risk factors include several areas of tooth structure demineralization, frequent sugar intake, poor oral hygiene and dry mouth. If you are identified as a high caries risk patient, you have the option of being placed on the dental clinic's High Caries Risk Program.

The program is offered by the dental clinic to help reduce the number and rate of caries for our high-risk patients. Some of the things we do for high-risk patients are: provide additional fluoride treatments, prescribe a pharmaceutical toothpaste and mouth rinse, place sealants if recommended, provide oral hygiene instructions and make referrals to the proper agency for smoking or diet counseling if needed. While all of the previously mentioned items definitely help control tooth decay, you must also consider what needs to be done at home to reduce caries.

There are things that you can do at home to help avoid tooth decay. Start with proper home care, which includes proper daily brushing and flossing. The purpose of brushing and flossing is to remove and prevent the formation of plaque. Plaque is made up of bacteria. As the amount of plaque and bacteria increases, the tooth is more susceptible to dental caries when carbohydrates in the food are left on teeth after eating.

Second, use fluoride toothpaste and an over the counter fluoride mouth rinse. The fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by binding to the enamel and making it stronger.

Third, avoid high-sugar drinks and foods. Carbohydrates, if left in your mouth throughout a period of time, can start the process of decay. You can still enjoy these treats, just have them in moderation; do not continually snack on foods or sip on drinks. Also, make sure to brush and floss after you have a snack or drink. If brushing and flossing are not feasible, rinse your mouth or chew on a piece of sugar free gum.

In the end, if you want a bright, healthy smile, see your dentist regularly, maintain good oral hygiene, and avoid a high-sugar diet.