A simplified understanding of tooth decay.

Plaque is the sticky biofilm that builds up on all our teeth and it contains a wide range of bacteria, most of which do no harm. Some of these bacteria use the sugars from our diet and convert it to acid which dissolves the tooth and commences a cavity to form and keep a cavity progressing. Those who have a high sugar intake in food and drinks change the balance of the bacteria living in their plaque, to the types that predominantly require the sugars to survive and multiply. Foods and drinks that are acidic also dissolve tooth structure and create sensitivity and speed up decay. 

An understanding of level of acidity of foods and drinks

An understanding of the level of acidity of foods and drinks is wise in preventing problems. Levels of acidity and alkalinity are measured as pH, with pH 7 being neutral (like pure water). A pH lower than 7 is acidic and above 7 is alkaline.

Tooth decay and acid erosion of our teeth only occurs when the pH of the plaque around the tooth structure falls below 5.5. Many normal foods and drinks have a lower pH than 5.5 and will lower the pH of the plaque around the teeth.

The acidity built up in the plaque stays for quite a long time after the source of the acidity has gone, so tooth structure keeps being dissolved and erodes away. Frequent snacking on sweet food or soft drinks keeps the acid levels high in the plaque for most hours in the day and is more damaging than getting it all over and done with in just one lot in a day.

The Role of Saliva

Our saliva helps by buffering the acid and also flushing some of it away. Our saliva is our natural defense against decay and attack by acidic food and drinks, and a healthy balanced flow is needed. A lot of prescription medicines and also recreational drugs impedes normal saliva protection, and also all our normal drugs on nicotine, alcohol and caffeine. As we age, our saliva formation reduces. This is unfortunate timing, because at the same time, the roots of our teeth are becoming exposed. For this reason, we get an upsurge in decay in our senior years.

When Decay Happens

Did you know that tooth decay can progress more rapidly in specific layers of our teeth? The hard layers like cementum covering the roots and the inner dentin beneath the enamel are more susceptible. Enamel, on the other hand, with its higher concentration of inorganic compounds, tends to decay more slowly and can resist acid attacks better.

Now, let’s talk about some culprits that can really wreak havoc on our teeth. Energy drinks, sports drinks, and soft drinks (especially colas) are among the top offenders. Even citrus fruits, known for their health benefits, can contribute to tooth decay due to their acidity. But wait, the most damaging substance to our teeth might surprise you—it’s stomach acid. Conditions like Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GORD), heartburn, and Silent Reflux can expose our teeth to stomach acid, leading to significant decay over time.

What’s even more concerning is that many people may not realize they have Silent Reflux until they start noticing more cavities despite maintaining good oral hygiene and avoiding excessive sweets and soft drinks. Let’s talk about some other dental dangers. Conditions such as bulimia and chronic vomiting (common during pregnancy or in cases of alcoholism) can cause serious damage to teeth due to frequent exposure to stomach acid.

And it’s not just adults who need to be cautious. Tooth decay can start early, even in toddlers. Leaving a bottle containing anything other than plain water in a child’s mouth during sleep—whether it’s milk, expressed breast milk, or sweetened drinks—can increase the risk of cavities.Just a note; never dip pacifiers in honey, treacle, or any sweet flavoring. This can also contribute to tooth decay in young children.

Remember, a little awareness and preventive measures can go a long way in preserving our precious smiles.

Make an Enquiry

  • Phone (07) 4051 4580
  • Fax (07) 4031 5226
  • Email info@futuredental.com.au
  • Address Ground Floor "Accent on McLeod"
    93-95 McLeod St

    Cairns QLD 4870
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