Preventing Tooth Decay and Gum Disease
Sugar and Tooth Decay
Tooth decay simply cannot take place without sugar. The bacteria, which are always present in the mouth and which form dental plaque feed on sugar to produce an acid. This acid causes decay.
People are generally susceptible to tooth decay in their youth - when the teeth are newer in the mouth, and when the gum shrinks back to expose the root surface in older individuals. However, frequent sugar consumption will cause decay in all age groups, especially if cleaning habits are poor.
It is the frequency of sugar consumption rather than the amount of sugar consumed that is most important; every time that a sweet is eaten decay can take place for up to an hour. Thus someone sucking a sweet every hour will be far more at risk than someone who eats the same quantity of sugar all in one go. It is best to eat sweets and puddings as part of a meal. It is well known that sugar causes tooth decay, however we now know that sugar has been implicated in many health problems including obesity and heart disease.
Sugar in tea or coffee and in juice or fizzy drinks can be particularly damaging, as many people will have several such drinks a day. This is equivalent to using a sugar mouthwash!
People will often forget that many fruits are rich in sugars, and that dried fruit, breakfast cereals and some medications may also contain the small amount necessary to cause decay.
Tooth cleaning and tooth decay
Dental plaque is the main cause of gum disease and is also partially responsible for tooth decay. If plaque has been completely removed from around teeth gum disease will be prevented.
Preventing plaque from stagnating on the tooth surface will prevent smooth-surface decay. We can advise you on which of the vast number of different toothbrushes and other cleaning aids to use between the teeth and for cleaning difficult areas of the mouth such as under bridges.
Unfortunately restorations will not prevent tooth decay; 'gappy' or ageing restorations may be particularly prone to 'secondary' decay, beneath the leaking restoration.
Teeth that have developed in a child who has been exposed to ideal levels of fluoride are smoother, harder, and less vulnerable to decay, but fluoride can be beneficial at any age. Young children and babies tend to swallow small amounts of fluoride when they brush their teeth with a fluoride containing toothpaste. In addition water in some parts of London, and some areas of England contains enough fluoride to completely satisfy the ideal requirements. The precise fluoride content of your water supply can be established by phoning your local water authority. When the local water supply is deficient in fluoride, supplements may be given. It is important that fluoride supplements should only be used in consultation with us, to ensure that an age appropriate dose is given.
Controversy over the quality of our water supply has meant that many of our patients have installed water filters and drink more mineral water than ever before. Some water filters will remove fluoride; most bottles of mineral water will display their mineral content. People living in hot countries usually drink very much more water and thus should make themselves fully aware of the fluoride content of their water. It is now recognised that fluoride works best on a topical level. The use of fluoride supplements requires compliance by the family. Fluoride can be given as tablets and mouth rinses and your dentist will guide you as to the best option for you or your child.
So as to maximize protection, we recommend a twice-yearly fluoride treatment for young children to further strengthen the surface of their teeth. A home fluoride treatment is available for adults with a high decay level.
We can help to ensure that teeth are cleaned effectively, and that difficult areas are reached. As discussed above, plaque is one of the main causes of decay and gum disease. By seeing a hygienist on a regular basis, as well as good home care, gum disease and tooth decay may be entirely prevented. By identifying early signs of decay or gum inflammation it is possible to reverse the process, and avoid having to fill the tooth or treat gum disease. Early diagnosis of decay will allow us to treat a tooth with a smaller restoration than may be necessary later on. Susceptible areas, such as the tiny fissures on tooth surfaces that allow plaque to accumulate, can be sealed with plastic materials. These “fissure sealants” are especially useful for children. A similar procedure using the latest adhesive white fillings will allow us to treat small cavities in adults.
It is important to remember that a dental examination is not confined to the teeth, but also includes a cancer check for the face and mouth.