I hope you are all well and surviving the tough times of lockdown we are currently facing. Our battle against the invisible enemy is ongoing and it might take a while until we resume our “normal” activities. In this context, it is very important to stress the role of prevention of dental diseases, such as dental decay (caries). In the UK, it is estimated that more than half of the adult population have at least one damaged or decayed tooth.
The major culprit for dental decay is the intake of sugar, or carbohydrates, not necessarily the amount, but how often we have sugary foods or drinks. We, as dental professionals, advise parents that it is virtually impossible to prohibit our kids from having sugar, but it is less damaging to restrict it to meal times, as a pudding, for instance, than to have the same amount spread throughout the day.
We have several species of bacteria harmoniously living in the mouth. The bacteria that is directly linked to dental decay is called streptococcus mutans. It uptakes the sugar and produces acid (lactic acid), which has the potential to cause cavities in the hard external coat of our teeth (the enamel). Under normal circumstances, all the different micro-organisms populations don’t cause damage to the hosts (we, human beings). Our saliva has protective effects and has a neutral ph of 7.
To summarise the decay process, after we have sugar, the saliva becomes a very acidic environment (ph drops to 1), which facilitates the transformation of sugar into acid by the s. mutans group. Our saliva has an in-built acid buffering system, which raises the ph back to normal level (7). It takes about 40 minutes for that to happen. The main issue is when we have more sugar within this 40 minute period of time, because it constantly keeps the ph acidic, and that makes the bacteria happy to thrive and cause damage.
So, to try to give our natural buffering system a hand, keep the sugar intake restricted to meal times, and brush your teeth with a Fluoride containing toothpaste immediately after meals. You can also use a mouthwash rinse with the same Fluoride once a day, for 1 minute. Do it at a different time from the brushing, so it will get in contact with the dental enamel more often, strengthening it and making it less prone to be damaged.
Please stay safe and we speak soon !!