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9 Things you can do to stop tooth decay

7th January 2021

Teeth Decay

Why do I have tooth decay?

I get asked this a lot, especially when I have just told someone that they require a filling. We all know that chocolate is bad for teeth but it is clear that most people don’t fully understand what’s going on in their mouths when their teeth are decaying. Small changes in our diets and lifestyles can have a huge impact on our susceptibility to dental decay and can save you a lot of money and pain in the future.

There are 3 key factors that drive tooth decay:

  1. Plaque
  2. Sugar
  3. Time

Plaque is an accumulation of living bacteria that gathers around teeth and they rely on sugar to live and grow. Once they have gobbled up any sugars present in your mouth, they will excrete an acidic substance as waste onto your teeth which erodes them down and eventually causes a hole. Sounds disgusting right? Initially, these holes don’t cause us any pain but as they are big bigger and closer to the nerves of our teeth we experience pain/toothache and at that stage, we need to remove the decayed parts of the affected teeth and rebuild them with a filling.

So now you know that these little bugs are using your teeth as a toilet, I’ll give you some advice on how you can stop this from happening.

How do I prevent tooth decay?

I will tackle each of the above factors here starting with the most mind-blowing to most of my patients as well as address the topic of fluoride.

Time and sugar

It’s not about how much sugar you have, it’s about how long it’s around your teeth for. Simple. Of course, a diet high in overall sugar is not good for your health but as far as your teeth are concerned the volume of sugar you have each day is not important. If you binged on a big share sized bag of Oreos all in one go, washed it down with lots of water and brushed your teeth immaculately straight away, your risk of tooth decay is much less than someone who nibbles at 1 biscuit throughout the entire day (just to be clear I am not saying binging like that is the solution!). Plaque requires some time to process the sugars present in your mouth before it becomes harmful so just be mindful of how long food debris is left around your teeth.

  • Limit the number of sugary intakes you have
  • Avoid snacking in between meals with sugary items and substitute them with non-sugar alternatives
  • Take your teas and coffees without sugar
  • Avoid snacking on fruit juices and energy drinks
  • Breakfast cereals/cereal bars are surprisingly high in sugar, in fact, a lot of ‘healthy snacks’ that you find in shops are very sugary especially if they are fruity or fruit flavoured

If you do end up having a sugary snack, then you can significantly reduce your tooth decay risk by drinking plenty of plain water after each snack, chewing on some sugar free chewing gum or rinsing with some mouthwash.

Plaque

As well as starving the plaque of sugar, we can also remove as much plaque from our mouths as possible. This is why dentists advise making sure that you brush your teeth morning and night every day. By brushing well, you are removing any build-up of plaque from your teeth as well as removing any left-over food particles. It is also important to note that most decay occurs in between your teeth where they touch each other, your toothbrush can’t get to this area and that’s where flossing comes into the picture.

  • Invest in a good electric toothbrush
  • Start flossing in between your teeth as often as possible (daily is ideal)
  • Use mouthwash, sugar free chewing gum and lots of plain water in between snacks and throughout the day

Fluoride

As we grow more and more conscious about what we put in our bodies, a lot of patients are telling me they have switched to using ‘natural’ toothpaste and that they do not want to use fluoride containing products. The reasons people present range from wanting to avoid chemicals to the more outlandish “fluoride is the way the government controls our brains”.

Fluoride is a chemical, in fact, EVERYTHING whether natural or man-made is made up of chemicals and yes, if you started to ingest fluoride at high doses, it will have very detrimental health effects. The same can be said for anything, too much water can cause health issues as well. This is why the fluoride content in toothpaste is controlled to a dose that will be safe for use … and also nobody is telling you to eat your toothpaste! Certain people who have a lot of decay will be recommended high fluoride toothpaste and these are prescription only medicines given to those who can use them safely.

We discussed earlier how plaque bacteria softens the enamel as it feeds on sugar, fluoride is the substance that has the ability to bind to this softened layer and make it more resistant to future acid attacks by plaque. That is why fluoride plays a key role in preventing the progression of tooth decay.

Use a toothpaste that contains at least

  • o 1350ppm if you are 7+
  • o 1000ppm for those aged 0-6

My message to people who are concerned about fluoride is quite simple. Our need to use fluoride toothpaste is a reaction to our diets. If you can guarantee that your diet contains 0 … absolutely 0 refined sugar and carbonated/acidic beverages, then feel free to safely use fluoride free toothpaste as well. But I would find it hard in this day to find anyone who is not taking in sugars from somewhere.

Like I said earlier, a few simple changes to your lifestyle can prevent your teeth from decaying away, saving you from pain and expensive dental treatment.

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