Our teeth are precious, which is why they should be treated properly and looked after so that they can last – not to mention save us from hefty dental bills. False teeth are never as good as real ones, and implants are an expensive last resort. Caring for our teeth begins with understanding how they function, and what can threaten them – then we can then do things to manage this. Tooth erosion and tooth decay are the most common problems that we are likely to encounter as our teeth begin to age.
The harder outer surface that dentists call tooth enamel protects the bone and nerves inside our teeth. Although this enamel is supposed to be an effective barrier against all damage, some of the modern foods and drinks that we all enjoy these days are enemies of this protective coating, because they contain acids that can cause the enamel to erode away. Under normal circumstances our saliva provides sufficient chemicals for our teeth to repair themselves, but, if we eat and drink too much harmful food then our body loses the battle, our tooth enamel gets thinner and our teeth become sensitive to hot and cold.
The main contributors to tooth erosion are fizzy drinks, including diet brands and soda waters. Acidic foods include things like citrus fruits and pickles, in fact anything that makes you feel acidic after wards. Fortunately, you can take effective steps to neutralize the damage that they cause, by limiting the time that your teeth are exposed to them, and rinsing out with water after wards. Avoid brushing immediately too – allow your tooth enamel an hour to recover first.
Tooth decay is a much more serious problem. The dental plaque that builds up on our teeth when we do not clean them properly is the cause of this. Tiny bacteria living inside the layer of plaque release acid that first softens our enamel, and then dissolves it away. Once inside the protective barrier, the acid is then free to do its worst, including eventually destroying the entire tooth. If a dentist detects the problem earlier enough, then he or she can stop the process of decay, and fill the hole.
We can control the process of tooth demineralisation in two ways. Firstly, by keeping our teeth free of plaque, and secondly, by avoiding feeding the bacteria inside the plaque with the sugary things that we already know are bad for us. That brings us back again to modern fast foods. In times gone by our ancestors ate crunchy vegetables and fruit – maybe we should get back to these again.
Tooth erosion and tooth decay are similar in that they both involve damage to the protective enamel of our teeth, but with different long-term results. Tooth erosion happens when we eat and drink to large a quantity of acidic foods and drinks, and is normally recoverable over time by backing off and allowing our saliva to do its job. Tooth decay results in permanent and irreversible damage to our teeth – fortunately for us, a dentist can usually halt the process, and make repairs.
Although tooth erosion and tooth decay are both natural biological processes (and we know that nothing lasts forever) it is possible to manage things so that our teeth last for our lifetimes, by eating sensibly, and brushing and flossing twice a day.