Q What is tooth decay?
A Tooth decay damages your teeth and can lead to fillings or even extractions. Decay occurs when sugar is broken down by bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on your teeth). The resulting acids attack the teeth and destroy the enamel. If this happens repeatedly, the tooth enamel may break down, forming a hole or 'cavity' in the softer dentine beneath. The tooth can then decay more quickly.
Q Which foods can cause decay?
A All sugars can cause decay. Sugar can come in many forms. Usually ingredients ending in ‘ose' are sugars, for example: sucrose, fructose and glucose are just three types. These sugars can all damage your teeth.
Many processed foods contain sugar. The higher up it appears in the list of ingredients, the more sugar there is in the product. Always read the list of ingredients on the labels when you are food shopping.
Remember that 'no added sugar' does not mean that the product is sugar free. It simply means that no extra sugar has been added. These products may contain sugars such as those listed above, or the sugars may be listed as 'carbohydrates'. Ask us if you are not sure.
Q Can food and drink cause erosion?
A Acidic food and drinks can cause the gradual dissolving of the tooth enamel - this is called erosion. Below are 'pH values' of some food and drinks. The lower the pH, the more acidic is the product. Food or drink with a pH lower than 5.5 may cause erosion. 'Alkalis' have a high pH number and cancel out the acid effects of sugars.
pH 7 is the neutral figure between acid and alkali.
Mineral water (still) pH 7.6 ; milk pH 6.9; cheddar cheese pH 5.9; lager pH 4.4; orange juice pH 3.8; grapefruit pH 3.3; pickles pH 3.2; cola pH 2.5; red wine pH 2.5; vinegar pH 2.0
Q Can I eat snacks?
A It is better for your teeth and general health if you eat 3 meals a day instead of eating 7 to 10 snacks. If you do snack between meals, choose foods that do not contain sugar. Whilst fruit does contain acids, which can erode your teeth, this is only damaging to your teeth if you eat unusually large amounts.
Try to avoid large amounts of dried fruit as it is high in sugar and can stick to your teeth.
If you do eat fruit as a snack, try to eat something alkaline such as cheese afterwards. Savoury snacks are better, such as: cheese, raw vegetables, nuts and breadsticks.
Q Can I eat sweets?
A It is not the amount of sugar you eat or drink, but how often you consume it. Sweet foods are allowed, but it is important just to have them at mealtimes. Sweets, including mints, containing sugar that require chewing or sucking are in contact with the teeth for prolonged periods and can cause considerable amounts of decay. Similarly, chocolate and biscuits in between meals are a cause of tooth decay.
To reduce tooth decay, cut down on the frequency of intake of sugary foods and drinks and try to have sugar-free varieties. Confectionery and chewing gum containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol may help to reduce tooth decay.
Excessive sugary food intake can also cause a range of health problems including heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Q What should I drink?
A Still water and milk are good choices. It is better for your teeth if you avoid drinking fruit juices between meals. If you do drink them between meals, try diluting them with water.
Diluted sugar-free fruit drinks are the safest alternative to water and milk. However, some soft drinks contain sweeteners, which are not suitable for young children - ask us if you are not sure.
Fizzy drinks increase the risk of decay, as do tea and coffee with added sugar. The sugar can cause decay and the acid in both normal and diet drinks can cause tooth erosion. The risk is greater when they are consumed between meals.
Q Should I brush my teeth after every meal?
A It is important to brush last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a toothpaste containing fluoride.
Eating and drinking foods containing sugar and acids naturally weakens the enamel on your teeth. Brushing straight afterwards can worsen erosion. It is best not to brush your teeth until at least one hour after eating.
It is especially important to brush before bed. This is because salivary flow, which is the mouth's own cleaning system, slows during the night and leaves the mouth more at risk from decay.
Q Why is a healthy diet important for my oral health?
A Each time you eat or drink anything sugary, your teeth are under acid attack for up to one hour. This is because the sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque and produce harmful acids. So it is important to have sugary foods or drinks just at mealtimes, reducing the frequency of times your mouth is at risk.
Acidic foods and drinks can be just as harmful. The acid ‘erodes' or dissolves the enamel, exposing the dentine underneath. This can make your teeth sensitive and unsightly.
A diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fresh fruit and vegetables can help to prevent gum disease. Gum disease can lead to tooth loss and cause bad breath.
Q Does chewing gum help?
A Chewing gum makes your mouth produce more saliva, which helps to neutralise the acid in your mouth after eating or drinking. It has been proved that using sugar-free chewing gum after meals can help to prevent tooth decay. However, it is important to use only sugar-free gum, as ordinary chewing gum contains sugar and so may damage your teeth.