promoting healthy teeth
Teeth are protected from decay by the alkaline nature of saliva. Alkaline is the antidote to acid. When we eat foods that contain carbohydrates, the bacteria in our mouth break it down and produce acid. It is this acidity that causes tooth decay. The more you eat, the more often you are exposing your teeth to an acidic environment. After you eat something, it takes 20 minutes for your mouth to produce enough saliva to neutralize the acid.
So from a tooth health standpoint, it’s important to minimize the number of times the pH of our mouths are lowered to an acidic level.
What’s inside our mouths?
Our mouths are full of bacteria. Hundreds of different types live on our teeth, gums, tongue and other places in our mouths. Some bacteria are helpful. But some can be harmful such as those that play a role in the tooth decay process.
Tooth decay is the result of an infection with certain types of bacteria that use sugars in food to make acids. Over time, these acids can make a cavity in the tooth.
What goes on inside our mouths all day?
Throughout the day, a tug of war takes place inside our mouths.
On one team are dental plaque—a sticky, colorless film of bacteria—plus foods and drinks that contain sugar or starch (such as milk, bread, cookies, candy, soda, juice, and many others). Whenever we eat or drink something that contains sugar or starch, the bacteria use them to produce acids. These acids begin to eat away at the tooth’s hard outer surface, or enamel.
On the other team are the minerals in our saliva (such as calcium and phosphate) plus fluoride from toothpaste, water, and other sources. This team helps enamel repair itself by replacing minerals lost during an “acid attack.”
Our teeth go through this natural process of losing minerals and regaining minerals all day long.
How does a cavity develop?
When a tooth is exposed to acid frequently — for example, if you eat or drink often, especially foods or drinks containing sugar and starches — the repeated cycles of acid attacks cause the enamel to continue to lose minerals. A white spot may appear where minerals have been lost. This is a sign of early decay.
Tooth decay can be stopped or reversed at this point. Enamel can repair itself by using minerals from saliva, and fluoride from toothpaste or other sources.
But if the tooth decay process continues, more minerals are lost. Over time, the enamel is weakened and destroyed, forming a cavity. A cavity is permanent damage that a dentist has to repair with a filling.
How can we help teeth win the tug of war and avoid a cavity?
Use fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that can prevent tooth decay from progressing. It can even reverse, or stop, early tooth decay.
Fluoride works to protect teeth. It prevents mineral loss in tooth enamel and replaces lost minerals. It also reduces the ability of bacteria to make acid.
You can get fluoride by
- drinking fluoridated water from a community water supply; about 74 percent of Americans served by a community water supply system receive fluoridated water. (If you have well water, see “Private Well Water and Fluoride” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
- brushing with a fluoride toothpaste
If your dentist thinks you need more fluoride to keep your teeth healthy, he or she may—
- Apply a fluoride gel or varnish to tooth surfaces
- Prescribe fluoride tablets
- Recommend using a fluoride mouth rinse
About Bottled Water – Most bottled water does not contain enough fluoride to prevent tooth decay. If your child drinks only bottled water, talk with a dentist or doctor about whether your child needs additional fluoride in the form of a tablet, varnish, or gel.
Keep an eye on how often your child eats, as well as what she eats.
Your child’s diet is important in preventing a cavity. Remember . . . every time we eat or drink something that contains sugar or starches, bacteria in our mouth use the sugar and starch to produce acids. These acids begin to eat away at the tooth’s enamel.
Our saliva can help fight off this acid attack. But if we eat frequently throughout the day — especially foods and drinks containing sugar and starches — the repeated acid attacks will win the tug of war, causing the tooth to lose minerals and eventually develop a cavity.
That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on how often your children eat as well as what they eat.
Your child is given some candy from their grandparents.
Which option is better for their tooth health?
a) Give your child small pieces of candy throughout the day
b) Allow the child to eat the candy as part of his or her afternoon snack
Information from: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/OralHealthInformation/ChildrensOralHealth/ToothDecayProcess.htm