Are you ready to sink your teeth into Thanksgiving turkey? What about the Christmas ham? The meats you enjoy probably won’t make the dentistry news headlines, but all of those delectable sweets just might! You know the old saying, “You are what you eat?” This is true when it comes to the health of your teeth. Drinking and snacking on sweet or starchy things is not just a treat for yourself, but for the plaque building up on your teeth as well. And while we don’t want to become the Grinch that stole your holiday treats, we would like to offer a few suggestions to combat those goodies and promote a healthy holiday smile.
High Fiber Fruits and Vegetables
Fiber is exceptionally good for your teeth, acting somewhat like a detergent in your mouth, helping to scrub off that unwanted plaque. There are a number of fruits and vegetables that have good fiber content, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to include a few more veggies into your holiday menu. At the top of the list are:
● Raw carrots
Not only do fibrous foods act as scrubbers, they also promote saliva flow, which aids in neutralizing acids and enzymes which attack your tooth enamel.
Incorporating dairy products into holiday meals is a cinch. Many recipes call for cheese, milk, yogurt, and other dairy products. What makes them so good for your teeth? The calcium in milk helps to build stronger enamel, providing better protection from those less healthful holiday choices.
Green and Black Tea
Do you have a soft spot for a steaming chai latte? A Chai latte actually has a couple of good things going for your teeth – milk and tea. Both green and black teas contain polyphenols that work to counteract plaque causing bacteria. Although tea is acid, the acidity is so weak that it does not affect your teeth. Rather, both black and green teas have been making dental news lately because they contain the properties that break down plaque bacteria, making them a good component of your healthy teeth arsenal. Just cut back on some of the sugar in that latte!
Eating for the health of your teeth need not be a bothersome chore; there are plenty of tooth-healthy foods that are delightful to the palate as well. Incorporating a few of these ideas into your traditional holiday fare is an easy step toward promoting a healthy smile.
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Sweets are the biggest culprit in causing cavities
Finding a cavity during a routine trip to the dentist is a familiar- if unpleasant – experience for many people; but most don’t realize that tooth decay is actually a disease process caused by bacteria, which can transmitted between people. Properly referred to as dental caries, this common oral disease affects children and adults of all ages… and is mostly preventable if you understand how the disease begins and spreads.
A cavity is actually a hole in the tooth. The hole is the end result of an infection by bacteria that produce acids which dissolve tooth structure. The dentist fills these holes as they are discovered but unfortunately, placing a filling the tooth without reducing the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth doesn’t usually cure the disease, and new cavities are likely to develop. Over 500 varieties of oral bacteria are found in the mouth, including the acid-producing Streptococcus mutans which is largely responsible for cavities. When they are not thoroughly and regularly removed by careful brushing and flossing, bacteria reproduce and thrive in a sticky substance that allows them to adhere to and destroy tooth surfaces. The key to controlling the caries disease process is to eliminate or control the cause – that sticky bacterial colony known as dental plaque.
Sugary or starchy foods that are left over in the mouth after eating provide a source of food for Streptococcus mutans, which creates acid as a waste product. Acids in the mouth break down and dissolve the minerals, primarily calcium in the teeth. As you probably are aware, brushing and flossing removes both the leftover food particles and the plaque, and is therefore a first line of defense against tooth decay. However, sometimes even people who have good oral hygiene develop cavities.
What is the explanation?
Bacteria are too small to be seen and can easily work their way underneath tiny cracks and openings that typically develop over time around old fillings, crowns and bridge work. Furthermore, when the molars are being formed, often deep and narrow grooves develop in the chewing surfaces. These grooves are wide enough to allow acids and microscopic bacteria to enter but too narrow to be cleaned with your tooth brush. That’s why even people who take excellent care of their teeth and have had great checkups for years still need periodic dental x-rays and professional examinations.
Because the risk of getting a cavity is directly related to both bacteria and the acid level in your mouth there are several steps you can take to prevent the caries process from starting:
- Don’t allow sweet drinks or foods to linger in the mouth over long periods of time. The longer teeth are exposed to these substances the more time bacteria will have to feed on it and produce acids that will bathe and destroy the teeth.
- Avoid sour candy and limit food and drink like soda, tea, and citrus fruits which increase the acidity of the mouth and harm the enamel.
- Stay away from anything sweet that sticks to the teeth. Foods like fruit rollups or taffy are obvious problems, but even “healthy” foods like raisins can stick and become be a source of food for decay causing bacteria!
- Brush twice and floss at least once daily to remove plaque.
- If you can’t brush after eating or drinking, rinse with water.
- Maintain regular dental checkups with periodic x-rays to check under fillings and between teeth where the dentist can’t see.
- Consider placing sealants (a semi-permanent plastic coating) on molars when they first erupt around age 6; this will keep harmful bacteria from invading deep inaccessible grooves.
- Make sure everyone in the family has had a checkup and is controlling their cavity risk factors when a new baby is on the way. Oral bacteria are transmitted between family members!
- Fluoride helps to remineralize teeth that have been “softened” with acids. Use fluoride toothpaste and ask your dental professional whether you are at high risk for cavities. Fluoride or another type of mouth rinse may also be recommended in either an over the counter or prescription strength.
- A one ounce piece of cheese eaten at the end of a meal helps neutralize acids.
- Xylitol, a sugar alcohol found in many products or sold as a sweeter chemically interacts with bacteria, preventing them from reproducing and reducing the acidity of the mouth. Ask your dental professional how you can incorporate Xylitol products into your diet.
- Specialized laser instruments are available to detect early cavities that are still too small to see. If detected early, in many cases these can be repaired (remineralized) without drilling and filling simply by adding minerals back into the dissolving tooth structure.
Managing dental caries is about more than just filling cavities. Though you may not have been aware of it, your dentist assesses your risk factors for tooth decay, including dietary and oral hygiene habits, family history and sometimes even body chemistry and saliva flow. A variety of techniques can be implemented at home and in the dental office to lower your risk for developing cavities and the dentist can make specific recommendations based on his assessment. Do you have a positive experience with any of the decay prevention techniques discussed in the article? We would like to hear from you!
Leave a comment | tags: acid, acidic, bacteria, cavities, cavity, dental caries, dental information, dentistry news, fluoride, plaque, remineralize, sealants, streptococcus mutans, tooth decay, xylitol | posted in Cavities & Tooth Decay