Food … glorious food. We all love to indulge ourselves from time to time, and we should. However, we should also understand how to indulge without harming ouroral health.
Everybody knows that candy and sweets are the most notable enemy, both to our teeth and our waistline. How then, do we indulge but try to mitigate the damage that may ensue from over-indulgence? But before we get to the how, we need to understand a little background information.
First of all, we should understand how tooth decay works and how cavities are formed. Once we have this information, it will all make more sense.
To begin with, we eat certain foods … in particular, carbohydrates. Now I am not only referring to candy and sweets, but all types of processed carbohydrates such as breads, cakes, crackers, pasta, pretzels, potato chips and candy. Fruits and vegetables are also carbs, but they are non-processed complex carbs which are ok. The other ones mentioned are simple, processed carbs which, when broken down by enzymes, are converted directly into sugar.
So now the carbs (sugar) are picked up by bacteria in the mouth called acidogenic bacteria. The entire function of these bacteria is to take that sugar and convert it into acid. Now we have acid sitting on our teeth and in the deep grooves of our back teeth and as we know, acid can break down, erode and destroy lots of materials, including the enamel of our teeth. That is how cavities (small holes in our teeth) are formed.
Well, the body’s response to this acid attack is to try to neutralize it with saliva. Saliva actually has a neutral or slightly alkaline pH which, in theory, will neutralize and disarm the acid. So, if we have enough saliva with a high enough pH to neutralize the newly formed acid, we should be fine.
The problem actually comes in when we have this acid attack over a prolonged period of time, such as from chewing sugary gum for a long time, people who tend to suck on sugared candies throughout the day, or people who drink soft drinks very often throughout the day. In these instances, the teeth are bathed in acid over a prolonged period and the acid formation becomes too much to handle. That is when the enamel is deteriorated enough to form a cavity.
Now the question is, what can I do to avoid this?
For starters, avoid prolonged exposure to carbs. Just eat your meal or snack in one sitting and be done with it. Don’t eat them slowly over a period of time. Second, brush your teeth immediately after eating with a toothpaste containing fluoride. The fluoride itself has a very alkaline pH which will help neutralize the acid and raise the pH of your saliva as well. Third, if brushing is not possible or practical at that moment, consider a rinse containing fluoride which will definitely give an added benefit.
And lastly, go ahead and enjoy what you eat, but do it with a better understanding of how and what to do to avoid unfortunate consequences.
“Dr. Krimsky’s Dental Wisdom” is a feature guest post from Dr. Peter Krimsky, a Florida dentist and member of numerous professional dentistry organizations, including the Florida Dental Association, American Dental Association and Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He also works with his patients to save money on dental care procedures, from root canals to cleanings with discount dental plans from DentalPlans.com.