How well do we care for our teeth these days? A better understanding of oral hygiene is needed
Modern dental services are now so advanced; there should be very little tooth decay around. Yet like the common cold, tooth decay is one of the most common diseases mankind seems unable to cure. But can we prevent tooth decay? Yes – even before the teeth emerge we can help children to develop stronger teeth that are more resistant to tooth decay. Then it is up to the parents and not really the dentists to prevent tooth decay.
Q ) Where does tooth decay come from – are sweets really the “root” cause?
A ) No. It is the bacteria called streptococcus mutans that lives in the food residues that wrecks our teeth. Any food that ferments in the mouth – even healthy food that remains in the mouth can ferment and provide an acidic environment for this pathogenic type of bacteria to live.
However, some fermented foods produce beneficial or probiotic bacteria that help us to fight against bacteria that causes tooth decay. Cheese, for instance is fine as a snack food or to eat slowly – chewing and swishing it around the teeth. The lactobacillus bacteria makes the “bad” bacteria form into clumps and this stops them from sticking to our teeth.
Q ) Is it true that cavemen all had very good strong teeth and it was only when man started eating grains that teeth began to decay?
A ) No, not all early earth dwellers had good teeth as we like to assume. Newly discovered human skeletal remains in Morocco dating back to the Pleistocene era of 13 000 BC show signs of severe, widespread tooth decay thousands of years before humans invented farming.
Q ) So what did they eat?
A ) Certainly not sweets and sugar like we do! The food remains they studied showed that these ancient people ate lots of a particularly sweet type of acorn, which becomes soft and sticky when cooked. They also ate wild oats and legumes. This type of food, when left in the mouth can ferment and facilitate streptococcus mutans and thus tooth decay – as it does today. Even though crude toothpicks were discovered, they don’t seem to have rinsed out their mouths after eating food that was rich in starch. They also ate animal flesh, but no dairy products.
There is however, plenty of evidence from Palaeolithic remains that show hominoids with excellent strong teeth. This group of hunter gatherers did not snack on sticky sweet carbohydrates so dental plaque was not full of acidic residues from bacteria. It is the acid that leeches the calcium out of our teeth. Ancient man did not have sparkling white teeth, they did not take fluoride or floss and some of their teeth were covered in green slime (plaque). But they did not have rotten teeth!
Q ) So is it true that plaque by itself is not the cause of tooth decay?
A ) food particles and saliva form a sticky film known as plaque which builds up on your teeth. When you consume food and drink high in carbohydrates (sugary or starchy), bacteria in plaque grow and produce acidic residues that break down your tooth’s surface. If left untreated, plaque that is infected with the streptococcus mutans bacteria can completely destroy the outside of the tooth and expose the nerves within the softer dentine and this leads to toothache.
Q ) Is it only acidity from bacteria that attacks our teeth – what about the healthy habit of sipping lemon juice in water?
A ) Lemon juice mixed with saliva washes around the teeth, exposing them to citric acid and this does cause severe tooth decay. Fruit juice also causes a lot of tooth decay, especially when babies drink it from bottles throughout the day. Natural fruit juice can be high in sugar and now we know – it may be “healthy” but it rots our teeth.
Q ) Is there an alternative sweetener that is not harmful to teeth?
A ) Yes, xylitol. It can even help to prevent tooth decay before we are born! Consumption of xylitol is associated with a significant reduction in tooth decay, resulting in fewer cavities. Pure 100% pharmaceutical-grade xylitol is a white, crystalline carbohydrate that is classified as a sugar. It is found naturally in fibrous vegetables and fruits. Xylitol is produced by the human body during normal metabolism. It is a naturally occurring form of the 5-carbon sugar, xylose. The main sources of commercially produced xylitol are corncobs and wood scraps from the lumber industry.
Q ) What else do you recommend for preventing tooth decay?
- Keep the bacteria and acidity away from your teeth.
- As soon as you can after eating starches and sugars, rinse out your mouth with water.
- Suck xylitol sweets or chew gum that contains xylitol as this will help to kill the bad bacteria.
- Eating a piece of cheese after a meal will also help to control bad bacteria.
- Don’t sip at sour drinks for hours at a time. Ideally, use a straw to drink lemon juice.
- Brush your teeth and rinse out the mouth very well.
- If you have a dry mouth, be aware that it contributes to tooth decay. It is the side effect of some medications. Rinse the mouth with water and chew xylitol gum to promote the flow of saliva.
For more information about oral hygiene products that contain xylitol:
Try our Nature Fresh mouthwash for glorious breath.