Remember those tootsie pops you loved as a child? That’s what your teeth are like, hard on the outside and soft on the inside. And do you remember what it was like to eat one of those pops? No matter how hard you tried to resist, you had to get into that center as quickly as possible. Bacteria try to do the same thing with teeth. Luckily, teeth are protected from bacteria by three layers: enamel, the hard outer layer, dentin, the hard middle layer, and pulp, the soft inner layer where all the nerves and blood vessels of the tooth are located.

When oral bacteria transforms into acids that eat away at these layers, tooth decay begins. If left unchecked, the decay can turn into a cavity, or much worse, lead to infection and possible loss of the tooth. But not to fear, there are plenty of ways to protect those tootsie pop-like teeth.

One of the best ways to prevent tooth decay is to avoid hard candies and other foods high in sugar or carbohydrates. Bacteria love sugar just as much as you do, speeding up tooth decay when you indulge. Try replacing soda with tea or water, or replacing candy with nuts and fruit to reduce sugar intake.

If you can’t stay away from sugar, don’t worry. Regardless of diet, regular brushing and flossing is the best way to prevent tooth decay. This daily habit cleans bacteria off teeth, preventing it from doing it’s dirty work against tooth enamel in the first place. Flossing also has other great benefits as well, and you can read about them here.

Aside from flossing, brushing with toothpaste plays a key role in tooth decay prevention. Part of what makes toothpaste so effective is the fluoride. Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to bacteria and helps teeth already affected by decay. Fluoride is also added to the public water supply, so if you needed another reason to stay hydrated, drinking water helps your teeth stay healthy.

Now of course, because everyone is unique, some people just seem to be cursed with cavities no matter how good they are at taking care of their teeth. Regularly meet with a dentist every six months to catch cavities before they become destructive. Getting small cavities filled in during the early stages is infinitely better than letting bacteria snack on your teeth like a tootsie pop.