Second Grade~Tooth Decay, Sealants, Fluoride, Soda Drinking & Diet
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What is tooth decay, and what causes it?

Tooth decay is the disease known as caries or cavities. Unlike some diseases, caries is not life threatening and is highly preventable, though it affects most people to some degree during their lifetime. Tooth decay occurs every time you eat or drink foods containing carbohydrates (starches and sugars) like soda pop, candy, ice cream, milk, cakes, and even fruits, vegetables and juices. Natural bacteria live in your mouth and forms plaque. The plaque interacts with deposits left on your teeth from sugary and starchy foods to produce acids. These acids damage tooth enamel over time by dissolving, or demineralizing the mineral structure of teeth, producing tooth decay and weakening the teeth.

How are cavities prevented?

The acids formed by plaque can be counteracted by simple saliva in your mouth, which acts as a buffer and remineralizing agent. Dentists often recommend chewing sugarless gum to stimulate your flow of saliva. However, though it is the body's natural defense against cavities, saliva alone is not sufficient to combat tooth decay.

The best way to prevent caries is to brush and floss regularly. To fix the early damage caused by plaque bacteria we use fluoride, a natural substance which helps to remineralize the tooth structure. Fluoride is added to toothpaste to fight cavities and clean teeth. The most common source of fluoride is in the water we drink. Fluoride is added to most community water supplies and to many bottled and canned beverages.

If you are at medium to high risk for cavities, your dentist may recommend special high concentration fluoride gels, mouth rinses, or dietary fluoride supplements. Your dentist may also use professional strength anti-cavity varnish, or sealants--thin, plastic coatings that provide an extra barrier against food and debris.

Who is at risk for cavities?

Because we all carry bacteria in our mouths, everyone is at risk for cavities. Those with a diet high in carbohydrates and sugary foods and those who live in communities without fluoridated water are likely candidates for cavities. And because the area around a restored portion of a tooth is a good breeding ground for bacteria, those with a lot of fillings have a higher chance of developing tooth decay. Children and senior citizens are the two groups at highest risk for cavities.

What can I do to help protect my teeth?

The best way to combat cavities is to follow three simple steps:

  1. Cut down on sweets and between-meal snacks. Remember, it's these sugary and starchy treats that put your teeth at extra risk.

  2. Brush after every meal and floss daily. Cavities most often begin in hard-to-clean areas between teeth and in the fissures and pits--the edges in the tooth crown and gaps between teeth. Hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and brush inside, outside and between your teeth and on the top of your tongue. Be sure the bristles are firm, not bent, and replace the toothbrush after a few weeks to safeguard against reinfecting your mouth with old bacteria than can collect on the brush. Only buy toothpastes and rinses that contain fluoride (antiseptic rinses also help remove plaque) and that bear the American Dental Association seal of acceptance logo on the package. Children under six should only use a small pea-sized dab of toothpaste on the brush and should spit out as much as possible because a child's developing teeth are sensitive to higher fluoride levels. Finally, because caries is a transmittable disease, toothbrushes should never be shared, especially with your children.

  3. See your dentist at least every six months for checkups and professional cleanings. Because caries can be difficult to detect a thorough dental examination is very important. If you get a painful toothache, if your teeth are very sensitive to hot or cold foods, or if you notice signs of decay like white spots, tooth discolorations or cavities, make an appointment right away. If a cavity is left untreated, you could get an infection or even get the cavity so bad that it cannot be fixed and the tooth may have to be removed.

Dental Sealants

A dental sealant is a thin plastic film painted on the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars (the teeth directly in front of the molars). Sealants have been shown to be highly effective in the prevention of cavities. Sealants act as a physical barrier to decay. Protection is determined by the sealants' ability to adhere to the tooth. As long as the sealant remains intact, small food particles and bacteria that cause cavities cannot penetrate through or around a sealant.

Sealant application involves cleaning the surface of the tooth and rinsing the surface to remove all traces of the cleaning agent. An etching solution or gel is applied to the enamel surface of the tooth, including the pits and grooves. After 15 seconds, the solution is thoroughly rinsed away with water. After the site is dried, the sealant material is applied and allowed to harden by using a special curing light. Other sealants are applied and allowed to harden much the same way nail polish is applied to fingernails. Sealant treatment is painless.

Sealants should last five years, but can last as long as 10 years. Newly erupted, permanent teeth, receive the greatest benefit from sealants. The chewing surfaces of a child's teeth are most susceptible to cavities and the least benefitted by fluoride. Surveys show that approximately two-thirds of all cavities occur in the narrow pits and grooves of a child's newly erupted teeth because food particles and bacteria cannot be cleaned out.

Fluoride 

Fluoride exists abundantly in living tissues as an ion. Fluoride is absorbed easily into tooth enamel, especially in children's growing teeth. Once teeth are developed, fluoride makes the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promotes remineralization, which aids in repairing early decay before the damage is even visible.

"Topical" fluoride is found in products containing strong concentrations of fluoride to fight tooth decay. These products, including toothpastes and mouthrinses, are applied directly to the teeth and are then expectorated or rinsed from the mouth without swallowing. Dentists recommend brushing with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day or after every meal, combined with a regimen of flossing and regular dental checkups.

The accepted "optimal" range of fluoride in water lies between 0.7 and 1.2 parts per million (ppm) or mg per liter. Drinking excessively fluoridated water can cause dental fluorosis, a harmless cosmetic discoloring or mottling of the enamel, visible by chalky white specks and lines or pitted and brown stained enamel on developing teeth.

Avoid swallowing toothpaste, mouthrinses or other topical supplements, check with your dentist on proper dosage, and be careful not to accidentally take too much.

Soda Drinking

Do you drink too much soda? You could be rotting your teeth. Drinking carbonated soft drinks all the time can erode the top layer called the enamel that is protecting your teeth. Soda contains sticky sugars that break down into acid which stick very easily to your teeth. These acids soften the surface and promote plaque production which leads to cavities. If the cavity breaks through the enamel and gets inside the tooth to the dentin, you will be in a lot of pain and have a very sensitive tooth. That could lead to a nerve infection which could end up in a root canal surgery! The worst time to drink soda is when you are very thirsty because the saliva levels in your mouth are very low. The saliva helps to destroy some of the acid from the foods we eat and drink naturally. Also, the more you drink, the more acid you allow to hurt your teeth. In fact you actually hurt your teeth more by slowly taking sips of soda over a long time than drinking an entire can at once. Everytime the soda touches your teeth, the acids get to work at destroying them. Try only drinking soda pop with a full meal, and brush and floss as soon as you are done, and if you're thisty and want a healthy smile, skip the soft drinks and head for the water.

Did you know that drinking water can improve your smile? Well actually it helps fight the acids that come into your mouth when you eat. It can reduce the acid by 30 percent according to the Academy of General Dentistry. Brushing is always best but not always possible. So drink to your health (water that is)!

Diet *

Not only is your diet important to your general health, it is also important to your dental health. If you do not eat a balanced diet, you are more likely to get tooth decay and gum disease. Developing teeth can also be affected. Children who have a poor diet are more likely to have dental problems.

How does the food you eat cause tooth decay? When you eat, food passes through your mouth. Here it meets the germs, or bacteria, that live in your mouth. You may have heard your dentist talk about plaque. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria.

These bacteria love sugars and starches found in many foods. When you don't clean your teeth after eating, plaque bacteria use the sugar and starch to produce acids that can destroy the hard surface of the tooth, called enamel. After a while, tooth decay occurs. The more often you eat and the longer foods are in your mouth, the more damage occurs.

Some foods that you would least expect contain sugars or starches. Some examples are fruits, milk, bread, cereals and even vegetables.

The key to choosing foods wisely is not to avoid these foods, but to think before you eat. Not only what you eat but when you eat makes a big difference in your dental health. Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks. If you are on a special diet, keep your physician's advice in mind when choosing foods. For good dental health, keep these tips in mind when choosing your meals and snacks.

Tips for better dental health

  • To get a balanced diet, eat a variety of foods. Choose foods from each of the five major food groups: breads, cereals and other grain products, fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish and milk, cheese and yogurt.

  • Limit the number of snacks that you eat. Each time you eat food that contains sugars or starches, the teeth are attacked by acids for 20 minutes or more.

  • If you do snack, choose nutritious foods, such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt, or a piece of fruit.

  • Foods that are eaten as part of a meal cause less harm. More saliva is released during a meal, which helps wash foods from the mouth and helps lessen the effects of acids.

  • Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste that has the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance.

  • Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners.

  • Visit your dentist regularly. Your dentist can help prevent problems from occurring and catch those that do occur while they are easy to treat.

    *The information that appears here may not be reproduced or distributed because it is abridged. To order the complete brochures - Diet and Tooth Decay, Diet and Dental Health - contact the American Dental Association's Salable Materials Program, (800)947-4746.

Contact

Academy of Dentistry International®
3813 Gordon Creek Drive
Hicksville, Ohio 43526 U. S. A.
Tel: + 01(419) 542-0101
Fax: +01(419) 542-0992
Email:info@adint.org