Taking good care of your teeth and gums is an important part of maintaining overall good health. Poor oral health is significantly associated with major chronic diseases and can cause disability and contribute to low self-esteem.
Proper oral care does not require excessive time or expensive tools. Avoiding simple sugars, and implementing daily gentle tooth brushing and flossing is the basic foundation for good teeth and gum care.
Additionally, no smoking, drinking plenty of water, and getting regular dental cleanings and checkups are needed to keep gums healthy and teeth cavity free.
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Fast facts on tooth and gum care
Here are some key points about teeth and gums. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Teeth are covered with a hard, outer coating called enamel.
- A tooth is primarily composed of minerals.
- Plaque is a sticky colorless film of bacteria that adhere to teeth.
- Plaque use sugar to produce acids, which eat away at the tooth's enamel.
- Saliva constantly remineralizes teeth, protecting them from decay.
- Dental caries (decay) is the result of an infectious process.
- Early decay can be reversed by natural remineralization.
- A cavity is decay that has progressed to the point it forms a hole in the tooth.
- Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that causes gums to bleed with brushing.
- Tobacco use is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease.
- Within 3-5 minutes after exposure to sugar the teeth begin to demineralize.
- Chewing sugar-free gum after meals results in a significant reduction in the formation of dental cavities.
- People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing infections, including gum disease.
- Some people are genetically more prone to severe gum disease than others.
What is dental decay?
Dental decay affects adults as well as children, and the severity of the disease actually increases with age.
For healthy teeth and gums, be sure to brush and floss daily and have regular dental checkups.
Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Cavities are also called tooth decay or caries.
Tooth decay requires exposure to sugar, but also depends on the susceptibility of the tooth, the bacterial profile of the mouth, the quantity and quality of the saliva, and the amount of time the tooth is exposed to sugars.
Cavities and tooth decay are among the world's most common health problems. They are especially common in children, teenagers and older adults. But anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants.
The best way to care for your teeth and gums is to follow good eating habits, brush, and floss daily, and have regular dental cleanings and checkups.
Practice good eating habits
There is overwhelming evidence that sugars are the most important dietary factor in dental disease. Specifically, it is the amount and frequency of free sugars consumed that determine the severity of decay.
Dental caries or cavities, more commonly known as tooth decay, are caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel.
Although other fermentable carbohydrates such as bread, crackers, bananas and breakfast cereals may not be totally blameless, studies show that consumption of starchy staple foods and fresh fruit are associated with lower levels of dental caries. Fluoride reduces caries risk, but does not eliminate dental caries completely.1
Consuming a variety of foods rich in nutrients and avoiding those that contain sugars and starches are important for keeping teeth and gums healthy.
Sugar and sweets intake should be limited, as the bacteria in the mouth need sugar to produce the acids that weaken enamel and damage teeth. Each time you expose your teeth to sugar the demineralization process begins, and it can take up to an hour for the mouth to return to normal non-acidic PH conditions.
Crunchy fruit and vegetables such as apples, pears, celery, and carrots are good in between snacks as the chewing activity increases the production of saliva, and saliva helps protect teeth.
Water should be consumed liberally, and any soft drink or fruit juice beverage (diet and regular), should be consumed with caution.
Most soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which interferes with the body's ability to absorb calcium. Fruit juices will also bathe the teeth in damaging sugar. Drinking these beverages through a straw can help minimize the time the teeth are exposed to the acid.
Chewing sugarless gum for ten minutes after meals and snacks can also help reduce decay. One study shows that it is not the sorbitol or xylitol contained in the gum, but rather the increased salivary flow attributed to the chewing process that helps teeth stay healthy. Eating hard cheese after a sugary snack is another alternative for teeth protection.
However, there are several studies that state that although increased salivation helps keep teeth healthy, xylitol has been demonstrated to have antimicrobial properties and the ability to efficiently inhibit the acid production of cariogenic bacteria and prevent oral diseases caused by dental plaque.8,9
Studies also note that xylitol both reduces the incidence of caries among children and due to its neutral pH, contributes to an oral environment that is hostile to acidophilic bacteria, thus fostering the growth of gram-positive basophilic bacteria, which are less associated with dental and respiratory diseases.10
On the next page we look at effective teeth brushing, flossing and the importance of regular dental checkups.