Back in 1970, Mr. Oliver Owl attempted to answer the now infamous question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?!” He tries his best but decided that the world may never know.

As dentists, we feel it’s our responsibility to ask the more important question: How many licks of candy does it take before you get a cavity!? We realize that’s another question we’ll probably be unable to answer exactly, but we can teach you about cavities and why they’re such a big deal.

What is a cavity?

It’s what we call a hole in your tooth. When you forget to brush your teeth, all that food turns into yucky plaque — the word for leftover food and gross bacteria — that grows on the surface of your teeth. The plaque eats away at your super hole tooth until it makes a deep hole, all the way down to the nerve center in your tooth. You can’t see cavities and usually can’t feel them until the hole is already super deep. Once it reaches a certain point, you’ll have to go to the dentist and he’ll drill away all that plaque. After that, he’ll use a special paste to fill the hole safely and restore your tooth.

If you have a cavity and don’t get it treated, the health consequences can become serious. The decay will continue spreading through your tooth. You’ll have pain and sensitivity to chewing and temperatures. Then, over time, it’s likely that your tooth will eventually crack, break, or rot out once the structural integrity is compromised.

How do you prevent cavities?

It’s not very hard! Cavities are common, but they don’t have to be. Practicing good hygiene and taking care of your teeth regularly with help prevent the plaque from further damaging your teeth.

  • Brush at least twice a day! You can brush more often than that but definitely at least twice a day when you wake up and before you go to bed.
  • Rinse your mouth out with fluoride mouthwash.
  • Routine dental checkups
  • Ask about fluoride treatments at the office. It’s not for everyone but if the dentist thinks they could benefit you, they’re worth it! You sit with foam fluoride in your mouth for a couple of minutes and avoid eating or drinking for an hour after the appointment — super easy!
  • Drink tap water, it’s treated with a safe amount of fluoride. It’s good for your teeth and staying hydrated.
  • Eat healthy. Foods like fruits and vegetables increase your salivation, which in turn keeps your teeth clean and “washed.”

In recent years, big schools like Purdue and University of Michigan have created “licking machines” to answer the wise old owl’s question. Naturally the two rivals arrived at two different averages of 364 and 411 licks respectively. How accurate are those numbers? The world may never know. However, we do know that you will have more than just one cavity after licking a Tootsie Pop 364 times. Have your parents schedule a check up today and make sure you don’t have any cavities!