If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles. – Sun Tzu
Many people assume that cavities in their teeth, called “caries” by dentists, are simply holes that developed over time. In a certain sense, that understanding is correct. What many clients don’t realize, however, is that the enamel of your teeth constantly undergoes a process of losing its mineral components due to contact with acids, but this process is not irreversible! When exposed to an acid-free environment, your teeth use the minerals in your saliva to rebuild the enamel. What starts as a depression or “cavity” can also be filled back in with the help of proper personal dental care! This process of demineralizing and remineralizing your enamel is like a constant back and forth battle between the destructive forces of decay and the protective steps of good oral hygiene.
Demineralization starts on the hard coating of your teeth, the enamel. Primarily composed of calcium and phosphate in a crystal lattice, the mineral crystals in enamel break apart in the presence of acids. Where does the destructive acid come from?
The bacteria implicated in tooth decay use the fermentation process to produce their energy. As a byproduct, they make lactic acid, which wears away the enamel through demineralization. At the beginning of this negative process, affected areas are called lesions. As the wear goes from shallow to deep due to poor dental hygiene or eating habits, lesions become pits or fissures in the enamel. They are now considered cavities or caries and can only be repaired by the dental restoration commonly called a “filling.”
Studies have demonstrated that highly acidic foods and drinks also break down the enamel. Sodas, sweet teas, and even highly acidic juices can all lead to enamel destruction. The longer bacteria are allowed to feed on remnants of food and drink and the longer their acid remains on your teeth, the greater the damage to your dental enamel.This is why brushing your teeth after every meal, or at least chewing gum or rinsing your mouth when brushing is not possible, are so important to your dental health.
The remineralization process, which can restore minor lesions, is chiefly assisted by saliva. For this reason, patients experiencing “dry mouth,” or xerostomia, are especially subject to tooth decay. Saliva washes away acid on the teeth and provides calcium and phosphate so that the enamel can recrystallize the areas that have started to decay. Examination of lesions that later remineralized demonstrate the effectiveness of this natural oral process. Most sites of remineralization are actually stronger than the surrounding original enamel. So your mouth can fight back against caries!
Another ally in the battle against decay is fluoride. Fluoride acts as a catalyst for the remineralization of your enamel. It encourages calcium and phosphate to crystalize, filling in the depressions started by tooth decay. Next to your natural saliva, fluoride is a major player in the battle to prevent dental caries. Its increasingly common use in most households is directly linked to the decline in tooth decay. Nevertheless, literally billions of people in all countries still suffer from caries.
In future articles we will examine: 1) Which of the common soft drinks are potentially the most damaging to your teeth, 2) Why receding gums increase the risk of caries, and 3) The most common sites for dental caries and what you can do to prevent them. The Sacramento Dentistry Group wants you to succeed in the battle against demineralization and dental cavities! So learn about your enemy and what you can personally do to defeat tooth decay!