We all know the advice for healthy teeth – brush twice daily and don’t eat too much sugar. So why do those of us following these instructions find we sometimes need a filling when we visit the dentist? The truth is, there’s a little more to preventing tooth decay than these guidelines suggest. Here’s what you need to know.
Brush up on your skills
How you brush makes a big difference. The mechanical act of brushing removes the very sticky dental plaque – a mixture of bacteria, their acids and sticky byproducts and food remnants. It forms naturally on teeth immediately after you’ve eaten but doesn’t get nasty and start to cause damage to the teeth until it reaches a certain stage of maturity. The exact amount of time this takes isn’t known but is at least more than 12 hours.
Bacteria consume sugar and, as a byproduct, produce acids which dissolve mineral out of the teeth, leaving microscopic holes we can’t see. If the process isn’t stopped and they aren’t repaired, these can become big, visible cavities.
Taking two minutes to brush your teeth is a good target for removing plaque and you should brush at night and one other time daily. Brushing frequently stops the bacteria developing to a stage where the species which produce the most acid can become established.
Electric toothbrushes can be more effective than manual brushing and a small toothbrush head helps to reach awkward areas in the mouth, while medium-textured bristles help you clean effectively without causing harm to gums and teeth. The main thing, however, is to get brushing!
Use fluoride toothpaste and disclosing tablets
Most of the benefit from brushing comes from toothpaste. The key ingredient is fluoride, which evidence shows prevents tooth decay. Fluoride replaces lost minerals in teeth and also makes them stronger.
For maximum benefit, use toothpaste with 1350-1500 ppmF – that’s concentration of fluoride in parts per million – to prevent tooth decay.
Check your toothpaste’s concentration by reading the ingredients on the back of the tube. Not all children’s toothpastes are strong enough for them to gain maximum benefit. Your dentist may prescribe higher strength fluoride toothpaste based on their assessment of your or your child’s risk of tooth decay.
Plaque is difficult to see because it is whitish, like your teeth. Disclosing tablets are available in supermarkets and chemists and they make plaque more visible, showing areas you may have missed when brushing.
Spit, don’t rinse
At night, you produce less saliva than during the day. Because of this, your teeth have less protection from saliva and are more vulnerable to acid attacks. That’s why it’s important to remove food from your teeth before bed so plaque bacteria can’t feast overnight. Don’t eat or drink anything except water after brushing at night. This also gives fluoride the longest opportunity to work.