All our life we spend 1,000s of hours expressing our thoughts and feelings through our mouth and the same mouth is also used to feed ourselves to survive. Thus our mouth functions as the outlet to our thoughts and inlet to food for our survival. We use the same mouth to abuse someone and also abuses the mouth by not taking good enough care of it. Over one’s entire lifetime, people develop a variety of oral habits like smoking; chewing betel nut, tobacco; relishing sweet products. Each potentially a harmful habit, when they do not find time to take care of their oral cavity – mouth, gums, and teeth. Yes, ‘time’, because during the daytime, we all would be talking, eating, and drinking something. Thus the circulation of saliva does not allow the formation of patches of starch or sugar on or between teeth. But during the night as we sleep the mouth is immobile and the saliva circulation is negligible. This leads to the formation of the debris of starch and sugar between teeth. Over a period of time, this forms the tartar and plague. The mouth can thus be seen as a “gateway” that provides a critical connection to other parts of our body. Given its vital connections to the digestive tract, the brain, and circulatory system, doctors across all disciplines of medicine have placed an increased emphasis on oral health in relation to overall wellness. Now having known this important fact, let us look into what specific things make some people have healthy teeth even when they do not brush or floss their teeth, while a million others have very bad teeth even when they regularly brush and floss their teeth
1. Insufficient Ptyalin
A popular belief held is that tooth decay results due to sugar forming a breeding patch for bacteria on the teeth. Typically the culprit is starch which has not been broken down into simple sugar. When the tooth-preserving systems in our body are working, this starch is broken down by ptyalin into sugar, which is then dissolved in the saliva and washed away.
When this tooth preventing system fails, the starch stays trapped around the teeth. The harmful bacteria feed on this trapped starch, releasing acids that destroy the enamel, leading to tooth decay. Hence, sugar and other refined carbohydrates based diet are hazardous for teeth. To form sufficient ptyalin, sufficient vitamin B is required, which is found naturally in unrefined carbohydrates.
2. Saliva’s alkalinity
The moment the enamel-eating acids are formed on the teeth, the body’s second line of defense is to neutralize them with alkaline buffers found in the saliva. Saliva’s alkaline components are comprised of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Any of these minerals (particularly calcium) are in short supply, the saliva’s buffering capacity is lost and the likelihood of tooth decay multiplies manifold.
3. Insufficient Saliva
Saliva’s buffering capacity is lost not only when its alkaline nature is lost, but also when the saliva itself is insufficient. Diets that are low on fruits, vegetables, and liquids, and high on cereals; insufficient vitamin A; or low thyroid levels cause a dry mouth.
4. Saliva’s pH factor
Acidic conditions of the saliva can also lead to tooth decay. Increased acidity of saliva causes calcium to become more soluble. This dissolved calcium gets washed away and is lost through the urine.
What brings about saliva’s alkalinity drop and acidity increase? It usually comes from ingesting an excess of substances that produce an acid reaction in the body including sugar, refined flour products, legumes, grains, and meat. When these foods are included in the diet, they should be balanced with alkalinizing foods, viz., vegetables, and seaweed products.
Eating habits for a lifetime emerges significantly out of the foods one consumes during his or her first teething phase. Feeding a child with sweetened food products, raisins, graham crackers, sweetened juices, fruit drinks like maza, slice, frooti, etc, that contain only about 7 percent real juice, inevitably plagues the child with a sugar habit into adulthood. The sooner an infant develops a sweet tooth, the stronger would be the urge to eat high-sugar snacks as an adult. A child is most vulnerable to a sugar habit at the time of weaning. This is when a child begins to actually chew food, and this early chewing habit gets programmed in the brain that can last as long as a lifetime.
‘Bottle Syndrome’, a term for baby bottle causing tooth decay, often results when teeth are incessantly exposed to sugary fluids, honey coating of the pacifier that most parents use to keep their child quiet when they are busy with something else.
Bacteria built up in the mouth; secrete acid, which eats through the tooth enamel. Primary teeth of a child are extremely vulnerable to this acid than are permanent teeth, as have thinner enamel to defend this acid.
Common types of a dental problem occurring in a person are
1. Tooth Erosion caused due to loss of tooth structure due to acid attacking the enamel.
2. Bad Breath or halitosis is an unpleasant odor emitting out of the mouth. The various causes leading to bad breath arise due to infection of mouth, tongue, gum, nose, tonsils, esophagus, and stomach. Personal hygiene and proper food and oral habits can help one
3. Abscessed Tooth is an infection. An abscess can include pus and swelling or tenderness of the soft gum tissues surrounding the tooth
4. Dry Mouth also known as xerostomia, is a common problem and can cause extensive dental problems.
5. Sensitive Tooth Sensitivity also known as dentin hypersensitivity is temporary tooth discomfort or pain in eating cold food, drinking cold liquids, or breathing cold air. Forming good oral habits right from childhood can help overcome tooth decay.
Following are some of the basic oral habits that one should imbibe right from childhood to avoid dental problems:
- Allow your child to drink water only between meals, and other beverages only during meals.
- Juice should form less than 10% of your child’s total diet.
- Never let your child go to bed with a bottle of sweetened liquid.
- Never coat the child’s pacifier with sweet liquid.
- Brush the child’s teeth before going to bed and cultivate this habit right into adulthood.
- Visit the dentist regularly to identify any dental problem
The key to overcoming tooth decay is to minimize exposure to sugar, refined carbohydrates based diet, and regularly brush and floss teeth after every meal or drinking sweetened drink.