By Dr Kiran Koora, MDS
The nutrition connection
Eating sugar, as you probably already know, is a major cause of tooth decay. But it’s not just how much sugar you eat, when and how you eat it can be just as important in keeping teeth healthy.
When you eat food rich in sugar or drink soda frequently throughout the day, the enamel that protects your teeth is constantly exposed to acids. Hard candies, cough drops, and breath mints that contain sugar are especially harmful because they dissolve slowly in your mouth. I suggest that you take a 3-hour break between eating foods containing sugar. Sugary or starchy foods eaten with a meal are less harmful to your teeth than when eaten alone, possibly because the production of saliva, which washes away the sugar and bacteria, is increased. Eating sweet before you go to bed can be the most damaging thing for your teeth (especially if you don’t brush your teeth after eating them) because you don’t produce as much saliva when you sleep.
For most people, it’s hard to cut out sweets completely, so try following these more realistic guidelines:
Eat carbohydrates (sugars and starches) with a meal.
If you can’t brush your teeth after eating, rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash, or chew sugarless gum.
Don’t eat high sugar containing food between meals.
If you snack, eat food low in sugar, such as cheese, popcorn, raw veggies or yogurt.
Going to the dentist
The main reason for going to the dentist regularly — every 6 months — is prevention. The goal is to prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and other disorders that put your teeth and mouth at risk.
Your first consultation with a dentist will probably consist of two main parts: a dental and medical history, a dental examination, and if possible professional cleaning. The dentist will examine your teeth, gums, and other mouth tissues. He or she may also examine the joints of your jaws. The dentist will use a mirror and probe (a metal pick-like instrument) to check the crown (visible part) of each tooth for plaque and evidence of a shaky tooth or decay. The dentist also will check your bite and the way your teeth fit together (called occlusion).
After examining the visible parts of your teeth and mouth, your dentist will take X-rays that might reveal tooth decay, abscesses (collections of pus surrounded by swollen tissue), or impacted wisdom teeth.
At the end of your visit, the dentist will let you know if you need to return, to fill a cavity. Your dentist also may advise you on the need for braces.
More dental problems
Dental caries (tooth decay) can attack teeth at any age. Left untreated, caries can cause severe pain and result in tooth loss. Losing teeth affects how you look and feel about yourself, as well as your ability to chew and speak. Treating caries is also expensive. So prevention and early treatment are important.
It may be surprising to know that most of us experience gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease. Gingivitis, which involves the gums but not the underlying bone and ligament, is almost always caused by an accumulation of plaque. As with caries, treatment can be expensive.
If you remove plaque regularly and follow good oral hygiene, your gums usually will return to their healthy state. However, more serious gum disease can cause gums to swell, turn red, and bleed, and sometimes cause discomfort. How dentists treat gum disease depends on the extent of the disease.