You can barely open a newspaper or listen to a news report these days without being bombarded with health advice. Fat, salt,cholesterol, alcohol; you name it and there is always a new scientific study proving that the things we all love to eat and drink are detrimental to our health. Except, of course, some of the studies seem to prove the exact opposite, and we are often left wondering whether we shouldn’t just ignore it all and suffer the consequences.
In the dental practice we meet people every day who have done just that and are now suffering from the pain and discomfort which results from tooth decay. Thankfully the science behind tooth decay is not complicated, it has never been contradicted and essentially can be described in a single word. Sugar.
When we eat sugary food (and drinks!) some of the bacteria which naturally stick to our teeth will metabolise the sugars and produce an acid as a by product. This acid then begins to dissolve the mineral content of teeth, eventually causing a hole to develop. Given sufficient sugary foods this hole will gradually grow larger until the tooth is weakened and the living part of the tooth (the space in the centre where nerves and blood vessels lie) begins to die off. It is at this stage that a call to the dentist is usually required – our reception team will testify to the number of calls we receive every week from people in severe pain as a result of tooth decay.
The good news is that tooth decay is preventable. We tell our patients every day that we cannot cure tooth decay, we can only deal with the effects of it – and usually that is unsuccessful if the decay process is ongoing. A cure for tooth decay can only be found by reducing sugar intake. It is an effective strategy – and it works every time. What’s even better is that there is no need to become a sugar puritan and to abstain from all sweet foods. The most effective way to cause tooth decay is not to eat a lot of sugar, but to eat small amounts of sugar frequently. Therefore to reduce decay rates it is usually only necessary to decrease the frequency of sugar. Here are some top decay reducing tips:-
1 – Keep sugar to mealtimes and avoid sugary food and drink between meals.. This is a simple way to reduce frequency
2 – Avoid sugar an hour or two before bed. Low saliva when you are asleep means the bacteria will produce acid for longer
3 – Sugar in tea, coffee,fizzy drinks,mints, boiled sweets etc often turn out to be the cause of tooth decay. Try sugar free alternatives but don’t be tempted by ‘Low Sugar’ brands (remember, it’s the frequency not the total quantity which is most important)
4 – Watch out for sugar in ‘healthy’ foods. Increasingly we see tooth decay in people with high intakes of fruit (especially dried fruit), honey, smoothies etc. The bacteria in your mouth don’t care whether the sugar comes in an organic health drink or a bar of chocolate. They will produce acid in exactly the same way.
5 – Make sure you are using a toothpaste with fluoride in it. It is the most useful ingredient in toothpaste as it strengthens teeth against acid attack but is unfortunately absent from many of the ‘herbal’ brands.
These are the things that dental professionals know (it’s been a long time since anybody working at The Bay Dental needed treatment for tooth decay.) We spend our entire working lives educating and encouraging our patients towards a healthy low sugar future, and that’s the ‘hole’ truth.