The truth is that there is a little more to preventing tooth decay than these guidelines suggest. Here’s what you need to know.
Polish your skills
How you brush makes a big difference.
The mechanical act of brushing removes the very sticky plaque – a mixture of bacteria, their acids and sticky by-products and food debris.
It naturally forms on the teeth right after you eat, but doesn’t get dirty and start damaging the teeth until it reaches a certain stage of maturity.
Exactly how long this takes is not known, but it is certainly more than 12 hours.
Bacteria consume sugar and produce acids as a by-product that dissolve minerals from the teeth, leaving microscopic holes that we cannot see. If the process is not stopped and they are not repaired, they can become large, visible holes.
Brushing for two minutes is a good target for plaque removal, and you should brush at night and once a day. Regular brushing stops the bacteria from developing to a stage where the most acid-producing species can settle.
Electric toothbrushes can be more effective than manual brushing and a small brush head helps to reach tricky areas in the mouth, while medium-textured bristles help you clean effectively without damaging gums and teeth. However, the most important thing is to start brushing!
Use fluoride toothpaste and revealing tablets
The most benefit of brushing comes from toothpaste. The main ingredient is fluoride, which is proven to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride replaces lost minerals in teeth and also makes them stronger.
For maximum benefit, use toothpaste with 1350-1500 ppmF – that’s the concentration of fluoride in parts per million – to prevent tooth decay.
Check the concentration of your toothpaste by reading the ingredients on the back of the tube. Not all children’s toothpastes are strong enough to provide maximum benefit. Your dentist may prescribe a higher strength fluoride toothpaste based on their assessment of your or your child’s risk of tooth decay.
Dental plaque is hard to see because it is whitish, just like your teeth. Clear tablets are available in supermarkets and drugstores and they make plaque more visible and show areas you may have missed when brushing.
Spit, don’t rinse
You produce less saliva at night than during the day. As a result, your teeth have less protection against saliva and are more vulnerable to acid attacks.
That’s why it’s important to get food off your teeth before going to bed so that plaque bacteria can’t feast overnight. Do not eat or drink anything other than water after brushing at night. Because of this, fluoride also has the longest chance of working.
Once you’ve brushed, don’t rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash – you’re washing away the fluoride! This can be a difficult habit to break, but can reduce tooth decay by up to 25%.
No more than four ‘sugar hits’
Intrinsic sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and are much less likely to cause tooth decay than added or free sugars. Free sugars are generally those added to foods by manufacturers, but also include honey, syrup and fruit juices.
These are all easy for bacteria to consume, metabolize and produce acids from. However, it can be difficult to say which are the worst sugars for teeth. For example, while normal amounts of fruit are fine, fruit juices release sugar from the plant cells and heavy consumption can cause spoilage.
The World Health Organization and the NHS recommend that free sugars should ideally make up less than 5% of your daily calorie intake. So what does this look like? For adults and children from about 11 years old, this is about 30 g – about eight teaspoons – of sugar per day.
A 330 ml can of cola contains 35 g of sugar. The change4life app is useful for keeping track of how much sugar you consume in your diet.
While not as important as how much, how often you eat sugar is also important. Simple carbohydrates such as sugar are easier for bacteria to digest than proteins or complex carbohydrates. Bacteria produce acids after they metabolize sugar, which causes demineralization.
Fortunately, through the action of fluoride toothpaste and the remineralizing effects of saliva, your teeth can recover from the early stages of these attacks. It’s like having a scale – you’re trying to balance sugars on the one hand, fluoride toothpaste and cleaning on the other.
Typically, your teeth can be subjected to four “sugar hits” — episodes of sugar intake — daily without irreversible damage to the teeth. Why not try counting how many sweet treats you have in a day?
These include biscuits, cups of sugary tea or coffee, and other refined carbohydrate snacks such as potato chips. A simple way to cut back would be to cut out sugar in hot drinks and limit snacking.
Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, don’t spit out, eat or drink anything after brushing, and don’t drink sugar more than four times a day. Simple!
Clement Seeballuck, Clinical Lecturer in Pediatric Dentistry, University of Dundee and Nicola Innes, Professor of Pediatric Dentistry, University of Dundee.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.