Table of Contents
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is when the hard and glossy layer of your tooth called enamel becomes damaged.
Enamel is a type of substance that coats your teeth to prevent them from breaking and getting damaged by bacteria.
Your mouth contains a lot of bacteria, both good and bad.
These bacteria come from your food and drink intake and saliva while others are inherently found in your gums and tongue.
The good kind of bacteria is those that help get enamel repaired and those that keep your mouth clean.
The bad kind of bacteria is those that are in the plaque of your teeth that convert sugar and starch to acids.
You get sugar and starch whenever you consume carbohydrates, sweets, junk food, soda, and liquor.
Eating and drinking the aforementioned food is not bad at all.
In fact, your body can be healthy even if you take them moderately.
Your mouth also has a mechanism to repair enamel naturally with the help of the fluoride you get from your toothpaste.
However, once they are taken in large amounts, the bacteria use them to produce so much acid that will eventually damage your enamel and then produce a cavity which is a permanent sign of tooth decay.
Tooth decay is a condition that grows over time. You can call it a process if you must.
The early symptom would be white spots on your teeth.
This already shows that your enamel is being damaged and it can no longer repair itself.
As more and more acids are produced, tooth decay leads to a cavity.
A cavity or a dental cavity is both a chronic and infectious disease.
It is chronic because once a cavity is formed on your teeth, it can now be a recurring condition.
If not treated fully, it would constantly infect other teeth causing more damage.
It is also infectious because anyone who has cavities can infect anyone by way of sharing saliva through kissing and eating.
There are two bacteria that are responsible for cavities.
They are the bacterium lactobacilli and the bacterium Streptococcus mutans.
As mentioned earlier, they are the bacteria that convert sugar and starch into acids.
Once the cavity is present, it is harder to cure.
Your dentist would have put fillings so that it no longer poses a problem, but this might spread to other teeth.
Moreover, tooth infection from tooth decay can have more severe effects on the body.
The Problem with Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is a serious condition and not much attention is given to it.
Based on the statistics done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chances of having tooth decay is four times more than the chances of getting asthma in adolescents.
There were two cases cited by Ms. Leah Rosenbaum on Harvard’s blog talking about how serious tooth decay can be.
The first case was a patient by Dr. Paul Reggiardo which involved an eight-year-old girl who had a swelling on her face that was caused by a tooth infection.
The second case by the same doctor was a twelve-year-old boy who died of the tooth infection because the infection already reached his brain.
A survey done by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in 2011 showed that 15% of American children in the age bracket of 5-19 have cavities that are not being taken care of.
For Dr. Reggiardo tooth decay is “the most untreated and most common problem that affects kids’ health.”
And since tooth decay is caused by sugary and starchy foods, carbohydrates and sweets should be avoided.
However, this isn’t always easy, especially for the lower income groups.
This is because carbohydrates are usually the cheapest type of food that is also the most filling.
Needless to say that a full stomach is needed by people to function well regardless of income level.
Nonetheless, prescribing a healthy diet that avoids sugar and starch could be problematic for those who do not have the resources to buy more expensive food.
Ways to Prevent Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is something that can be prevented.
Since it is a result of excess sugar and starch being converted to acids, there are things that you can do to avoid tooth decay from worsening or even occurring at all.
Eat the Right Foods
Your diet is directly proportional to your health. Nothing affects your health as much as your diet does.
Your teeth are not even immune from doing this.
If you stock up on food that contains a lot of sugar and starch, they will only reinforce plaque build-up on your teeth causing them to attack the enamel.
This will eventually lead to tooth decay.
However, if you eat the right foods, there is a great probability that tooth decay can be prevented.
Here are some foods you should start eating more of according to the American Dental Association.
- Dairy Products
Dairy products are known to increase the production of saliva in the mouth.
More saliva is needed because it contains calcium and phosphate which make the teeth stronger and reinforces the repair of enamel.
Dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk can be a good source of the said minerals provided they are unsweetened.
Milk is a powerful anti-cariogenic which means that it is a good preventive measure for tooth decay.
Peptides in milk like the β-casein-derived casein-phosphate peptide also promote dental health through preservation of the minerals found in the teeth.
To add to that, milk proteins which are mostly made up of caseins avoid tooth decay in two ways.
One is through reducing demineralization and the other is the hindrance of the formation of biofilm.
Demineralization occurs when there is an unsaturation of the mineral content required for good dental health.
Milk proteins help reduce the occurrence of demineralization which leads to tooth decay.
On the other hand, biofilm (also known as dental plaque) is a glue-like substance that sticks to your teeth because of the bacteria and the water in your mouth.
Having a lot of this leads directly to cavities.
Tea comes in different types and flavors, but what is directly related to tooth decay prevention is green tea.
Green tea has polyphenols that are known to fight bacteria so that they do not produce acid when they come in contact with sugar and starch.
A study showed that the fluoride found in green tea can help in fighting tooth decay; however, this may not be substantial because green tea has low levels of fluoride.
Nonetheless, studies have shown that green tea drinkers have better dental health than non-green tea drinkers.
It is just important to note that when you do take tea, do not put sweeteners because sugar defeats the health benefits of tea.
- Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables should be a staple in your diet because they are not rich in starch and sugar and they can still give you a full stomach.
This is attributed to the high water content found in them especially in green leafy vegetables.
Moreover, fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber help in preventing tooth decay by reinforcing the production of saliva.
High-fiber foods are relatively difficult to chew (i.e. green leafy vegetables) and you have to constantly chew them before you swallow.
This constant chewing elicits the production of saliva which contains bacteria that repair enamel.
More saliva also decreases the chances that there will be food stuck in your teeth.
Now that you know which foods to eat, you should be able to complement this by avoiding eating starchy and sugary foods.
A healthy diet for your dental care does not stop with eating the right foods and still consuming those unhealthy ones.
Carbohydrates are the main culprit for this.
However, it is not always easy to avoid carbohydrates especially for the low-income levels as mentioned earlier.
Stock Up on Fluoride
You have probably heard of kinds of toothpaste being advertised as “rich in fluoride” or having “fluoride protection” and you wonder why it actually mattered.
Well, before you see the importance of fluoride you have to know what happens to your teeth when you eat or drink.
As discussed previously, demineralization is when you lose minerals.
Remineralization, on the other hand, is when these minerals are replenished with the help of fluoride.
Fluoride is important for two reasons. One is that it helps the formation of permanent teeth.
When drunk, it goes into the bloodstream that improves the growth and strength of permanent teeth.
Second, it boosts the repair of enamel that gets damaged by acid.
This is when you use toothpaste or mouthwash or when you apply fluoride topically.
There are other ways to get fluoride.
In the United States, the American Dental Association has constantly supported water fluoridation in a lot of areas.
Water fluoridation occurs when the fluoride levels in drinking water are adjusted to 0.7-1.2 parts per million so that it can prevent tooth decay.
Studies have shown that drinking fluoridated water greatly decreases tooth decay both in children and in adults.
There are also fluoride tablets that you can take based on your dentist’s prescription.
Doses depend on the person’s weight so the fluoride intake can range from 320 milligrams up to 655 milligrams.
This doesn’t include the fluoride you get from drinking water yet.
Moreover, when you supplement fluoride tablets with fluoridated water, there is no risk of an overdose because the fluoride in the water is low.
To add to that, you can also take in fluoride-rich drinks.
Aside from water, there are powdered juices that are rich in this mineral.
You just have to check the label if it has a lot of sugar.
There is fluoride in dehydrated soups as well.
Brush Regularly and Properly
While brushing your teeth regularly may not be a problem, doing it the right way can be a little more difficult.
According to the American Dental Association, there is a right way to brush your teeth.
Using a soft-bristled brush, you should tilt it for 45 degrees to brush the inside of your mouth.
When brushing your chewing side, brush it back and forth in short strokes.
Do the same for the inner side of the teeth.
You should also brush the inside of the front teeth. Brush the upper and lower sets vertically.
Make sure that you brush your teeth twice every day.
It is also highly recommended that you replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months so that you are sure that they still function well in removing dirt and lingering food in your mouth.
Brushing your teeth should also be accompanied by flossing because dental floss helps remove the food that gets stuck in between your teeth that your toothbrush bristles cannot reach.
It is very important that you remove all the food in your mouth because lingering food forms into plaque which will cause tooth decay in the long run.
Take Regular Visits to the Dentist
This is a simple way to prevent tooth decay, but sadly, not everyone has the resources for this.
Some simply do not have the time.
Nonetheless, you should know how important seeing a dentist is.
For one, your dentist will give you professional cleaning that is necessary for good oral hygiene.
There are dirt and bacteria that accumulate in your mouth that cannot simply be removed by mere brushing regardless of how often you brush.
An oral prophylaxis is highly recommended every once in a while.
Another reason to see the dentist is for you to consult about the right remedies for tooth decay.
They can give you a supplement for fluoride and they can also give you suggestions on how to not make your tooth decay any worse.
If it does reach a point that it has formed permanent damage, like cavities, then your dentist would have to put fillings on the damaged area.