ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Cavities (“dental caries”) are decayed areas of the tooth surface that develop into tiny openings or holes. Tooth decay is a preventable chronic disease. It is an extremely common health disorder. Anyone who has teeth can develop cavities.“Many Army Soldiers are at high risk of developing tooth decay,” said Maj. Christa Hirleman, a U.S. Army public health dentist currently assigned to the Army Public Health Center. “But, the Army Dental Care System serves to protect the oral health of its family. One exceptional service available to high risk Soldiers is the High Caries Risk program.”The HCR program is designed to address a Soldier’s individual risk factors for the purpose of preventing the development of future cavities. The program includes an analysis of the Soldier’s food and beverage consumption, hydration, tobacco product use, and sleep adequacy. The dental provider will review habits that are increasing the Soldier’s risk of dental decay and suggest ways to improve them. Other methods of intervention may include sealants, fluoride treatments, and antimicrobial products. Upon completing the HCR program, the Soldier will receive a dental decay risk re-assessment.“Enrollment and participation in this program is voluntary,” said Hirleman. “But if you are identified as being at high risk – you would be smart to take advantage. This special service is a unique opportunity to maximize your oral health.”The Army provides dental services to its Soldiers with an eye on preventing oral disease, promoting oral health, and maintaining readiness. However, some Soldiers may delay dental care until they feel treatment is needed. Remember that when a cavity is just beginning, you may not have any symptoms. As the decay gets worse, symptoms might develop including sensitivity to hot or cold, a sharp and/or dull toothache, and visible holes or dark staining in the tooth.If cavities are not treated, they get larger and continue to affect the deeper layers of the teeth. Cavities can lead to a severe toothache, infection, and tooth loss. Regular dental visits, good brushing and flossing habits, and a healthy diet are the best protection against cavities.Multiple factors determine an individual’s risk of cavities, including oral hygiene habits, diet, tobacco use, salivary flow, and clinical signs that tooth decay is or was present.Poor oral hygiene and frequent snacking lead to the buildup of plaque on teeth. Plaque is just a fancy word for a sticky film of bacteria. These bacteria produce acids which break down the tooth surface forming a cavity.There are several conditions that can increase the risk of tooth decay. For example, people who have dry mouths have an increased risk because saliva washes away food products and fights the bacteria in the mouth. People who vomit often (from eating disorders) or who have acid reflux have a higher risk due to the increased amount of acid in the mouth. The acid destroys the outside layer of the tooth (enamel) which increases the risk of tooth decay. If you have old, worn or broken fillings you might be at an increased risk because the fillings may have some openings which allow the bacteria to build up inside them.So how does one prevent cavities?A yearly dental check-up is very important because it gives your dentist an opportunity to examine your oral health, including your risk of tooth decay.Remember that good oral hygiene and a healthy diet help prevent tooth decay.Here are some more helpful tips:Brush with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes, twice a day.Floss daily.If you cannot brush, rinse your mouth out with water or chew sugar free gum.Visit your dentist regularly.Avoid frequent snacking and sipping, especially on sugary (sticky) foods and drinks such as soda and juice.Eat foods good for oral health including fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy such as cheese and yogurt, and lean protein such as chicken and fish.Drink water! Water is the best beverage for maintaining good oral health.Ask your dentist if sealants, fluoride varnish, or antimicrobial treatments are right for you.Information regarding the Army’s HCR Program found on page 13 of the 2019 MEDCOM Health of the Force Report.The Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury and disability of Soldiers, military retirees, their families, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through population-based monitoring, investigations, and technical consultations.