There is no denying that a sweet treat once in while can be quite comforting, but let us not forget that dental cavities are primarily caused by excessive sugar intake. In fact, every Canadian consumes an average of 40 kg of sugar per year; you can appreciate that a healthy dental hygiene regimen is key to preventing tooth decay. But what is a cavity exactly?
Dental cavity in short!
Firstly, we must recall that a tooth is composed of three layers, from the outside of the tooth to the inside. The outermost layer is the enamel, underneath is the dentine, and finally, the pulp. The enamel is the superficial layer of the tooth, that is to say, the layer that is in contact with the inside of the mouth, including the food we ingest. Bellow the enamel is the dentine, the part that largely makes up the mass of the tooth. The inner most layer is the tooth tissue called the pulp. This is where blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and nerves reside. When a cavity develops, all three layers of the tooth are affected. This decay develops progressively, from the surface (enamel) toward the centre of the tooth (pulp).
At the beginning, a dental cavity may not be painful but as it progresses toward the centre of the tooth, first reaching the dentine where bacterial toxins have free range to attack the pulp, tooth sensitivity increases. We first notice sensitivity to hot and cold, then, as the cavity expands, the tooth also becomes sensitive to sugary foods. Finally, the cavity becomes visible and appears as a brown or black speck on the tooth.
Dental cavities can be caused by various factors such as plaque, heredity and nutrition.
Plaque is a deposit that accumulates on the surface of the tooth. It is in fact an invisible film that contains a large quantity of bacteria. Plaque hardens within 24 to 36 hours and we can observe a daily accumulation of this deposit. Plaque is also the main culprit in Gum Disease.
As for heredity, we speak here of a family’s history of dental cavities. In fact, some people are more susceptible to develop cavities, chiefly because the pH content of their saliva is naturally more acidic, allowing bacteria to multiply more quickly.
Finally, nutrition also plays an important role in the advent of cavities. Infrequent brushings and sugar consumption are the two main factors responsible for a decrease in oral pH, which in turn induces the production of bacteria that cause dental enamel erosion, the first step in the development of a cavity. The more frequent the consumption of sugars, the more tooth enamel damage will escalate, progressively reaching the other layers of the tooth.
If a dental cavity remains untreated, it can cause the destruction of a tooth and even an infection of the bone where it takes hold, because of bacteria penetration.
Enjoy sweets while avoiding tooth decay
The Canadian Dental Association Website has a few suggestions to help us keep our teeth healthy while occasionally satisfying our cravings for sweets. Here are a few suggestions:
- Eat sweets at mealtime rather than as a snack. Because there is an increase in the flow of saliva while we eat, it helps dilute and wash away sugars from your teeth.
- It is preferable to avoid caramels, as they easily stick to the surface of your teeth and are more difficult dislodge.
- If you cannot brush your teeth, rinse your mouth with water, eat foods that contain lots of fibres or chew on sugar-free gum.
Brushing your teeth: the best way to avoid cavities
There are no miracle products that prevent dental cavities. The key to healthy oral hygiene is adequately brushing your teeth after each meal and right before bedtime. A complete cleaning includes brushing, of course, but it is important to remember that flossing between each tooth is also essential. In fact, without flossing, more than 30% of the surface of the tooth remains untouched. Therefore, this continues to be an effective method in the prevention of gum disease and cavities. Flossing prevents the formation of dental plaque by keeping food from accumulating between the teeth and consequently, the accumulation of bacteria. It should be noted that when you first start flossing, gums have a tendency to bleed a little. This need not be worrisome in most cases as bleeding should subside within a few days.
A thorough brushing should last between 2 and 3 minutes and must be done immediately after a meal, as the time needed for bacteria to start attacking is quite short. For a proper brushing technique, you must hold the toothbrush at a 45° angle to your teeth and to use a gentle, circular massaging motion, up-and-down. Make sure you have the correct technique to prevent your gum line from receding, meaning, preventing your gums from receding from the surface of your teeth. It is also important not to forget the molars at the very back of your mouth, even if they are more difficult to reach.
The use of an adequate toothbrush facilitates thorough brushing. You should chose a soft brush with rounded bristles. Finally, it is important to replace your toothbrush every three months, as it is the maximum life-expectancy of a toothbrush.
For more details and illustrations on proper flossing and brushing techniques, you can visit the Canadian Dental Association Website: http://www.cda-adc.ca or the Ordre des hygiénistes dentaires du Québec Website: http://www.ohdq.com.
Regular brushing aside, it is recommended that you adopt a balanced and nutritious diet, while avoiding sweets as much as possible. It is also very important to examine your gums from time to time, as they are a good indicator of the health of your mouth and teeth. Watch out for the emergence of redness, inflammation, sensitivity or bleeding while brushing or flossing.
Tobacco use continues to be one of the leading causes of tooth loss. So, a warning to hardened smokers: it is in your best interest to stop smoking!
Finally, remember that regularly visiting your dentist is important, since this health professional is trained to detect anomalies that are difficult for us to notice.
Special care for children
Children are more susceptible to dental cavities; it is therefore essential to ensure they receive quality care.
Let us remember that young children are unable to care for their teeth adequately. Parents must clean their children’s mouths even before the first tooth appears. You need to gently brush gums and teeth, if they have any, with a soft baby brush or a damp washcloth.
As soon as your child can write (not print) his name, he is ready to brush his teeth correctly. However, carefully watch that your child brushes his teeth gently to prevent damaging his gums. It is also important to make sure he does not ingest toothpaste or he could potentially develop dental fluorosis, a disease caused by chronic fluoride intoxication. In fact, never put too much toothpaste on your child’s brush. As soon as his first tooth comes out, a tiny amount of toothpaste will suffice. When your child reaches the age of 3, a pea-sized quantity of toothpaste should be adequate.
Lastly, a child’s nutrition also plays a vital role in maintaining healthy teeth. In this case, sugar is also an important factor in the development of tooth decay. Evidently, the quantity of sugar consumed and the length of time it remains in the mouth are directly related to the emergence of cavities in your child’s mouth. You should then reduce the frequency of sugar consumption and opt for foods that contain as little sugar as possible.
For example, choose fruit juices with no sugar added and have him drink water between meals rather than sweet drinks. It is also important to note that natural sugar can be as damaging as refined sugar. Hence you must be vigilant because it is a matter of the quantity of sugar consumed, rather than its origin. Furthermore, be weary of certain liquid medications, such as cough syrup, that contain an important amount of sugar. In order to make an informed choice, do not hesitate to ask your pharmacist as he is able to point you toward sugar-free medication.
Good habits to maintain healthy teeth
Lastly, the secret to healthy teeth is a healthy dental hygiene regimen. Remember that sweets, like alcohol, are better enjoyed in moderation!