Dental decay – What it is and how to prevent it!

Did you know what the most prevalent chronic disease in both children and adults is? If you answered “dental decay”, you are correct! The good news is that dental decay is completely preventable.

Dental decay (or dental caries) occurs due to loss of mineral from teeth due to acids produced by microbes in the mouth. In the early stages, this presents as a slightly rough white patch on the crown (the part of the tooth above the gums) or darker patch on the root (the part of the tooth usually below the gums). Over time, the tooth softens and a hole develops.  Left untreated, decay can cause the tooth to crumble and can affect the nerve of the tooth causing pain and infection.

Decayed anterior teeth

There are three factors that affect your risk of dental decay:

Oral hygiene: Teeth should be cleaned at least twice a day with brushing and flossing, especially once upon waking and once before bed. Periodic removal of plaque (the sticky white film of bacteria that forms on teeth) is important because old plaque contains more acid-producing microbes that are responsible for tooth decay. That is why we recommend brushing twice a day- to ensure you remove the old plaque that builds up during sleep, and once again to remove the old plaque that builds up during the day! An extremely useful adjunct to show how well you are cleaning is plaque disclosing solution or tablets (e.g. Colgate Plaque Disclosing Tablets- found at pharmacies). This temporarily stains the areas of plaque buildup and can be a great way of showing what you have missed with brushing/flossing!

Diet- This is perhaps the most critical factor in minimising the risk of decay. Research has shown that Australian Aborigines in traditional times had a surprisingly low rate of dental decay; this is most likely because of their low sugar diet. The frequency of sugar is a critical factor. Bacteria and fungi in the mouth take up sugars and produce acid which damage the teeth. Continual exposure to sugars results in a persistently acidic environment in the mouth. After having acidic or sugary foods, you can rinse the mouth out with either water or a bicarbonate mouthwash (made by mixing a teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of warm water).

Saliva– the risk of decay is much higher when the amount of saliva is too low or is of poor quality (e.g. frothy). The quality and quantity of saliva can be improved with adequate hydration, and chewing two pieces of gum (sugar-free mint flavoured*, 10 minutes per day)

If you have sensitive teeth or notice a hole in one of your teeth or have any of the risk factors above, now is the time to call in for us to have a look!

*many fruit flavoured chewing gums contain citric acid (usually labelled as food acid 330) which can cause further demineralisation of the tooth