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Tooth Decay, The Lies We Tell Ourselves and Why Honesty Counts

August 04, 2018

As a dentist, and like every other dentist I hear the excuses “my mother/father had soft teeth, my sister/brother’s teeth are perfect and we ate the same foods”

These are just some of the excuses passed for decay and unfortunately they don’t cut it.

Tooth Decay will only occur when;

Bacteria is present in the mouth (and this has to be undisturbed for at least 24 hours) before it can cause damage.

Sugar has to be present in the diet. The sugar can be in the form of refined sugar in hot drinks or on breakfast cereals, natural sugars like honey, fruit juices, fruit smoothies and cakes/sweets.

If either one of the above factors is absent you will not get tooth decay, so;

If you keep your mouth immaculately clean, you could eat as many sugars as you want without decay. However your general health would suffer.

Or you can have a sugar free diet and not brush your teeth, no decay. But your gums and breath would suffer.

There is the third way however, a reasonable diet trying to keep sugars to a level so that your health (general and dental) won’t suffer and where you practice reasonable hygiene.

When a cavity forms in a tooth it is the end event after a period of ongoing decay, a bit like how a heart attack occurs after a period of inactivity and poor diet/lifestyle.

How to Prevent Decay

Teeth are amazing.  In normal use, the teeth will soften (demineralise) after sugar has been taken.  As soon as we finish the sugar the saliva will start to clean the mouth, clear the sugar and re-harden (remineralise) the tooth.

It is only when the balance has been in favour of demineralising rather than mineralising over a period of many, many months does a cavity form.

There are some conditions affecting the saliva (which is hugely important in protecting the mouth) or the structure of the tooth, that can leave a person more prone to decay. However these are rare and can be tested for. For the vast majority of people decay is solely caused by their poor lifestyle choices.

Fillings or crowns can repair the damage caused by the decay, but if conditions do not change these treatments will fail faster than the original tooth.  The only person who can cure your decay is you.

And so although it can seem harsh or cruel, but when I hear the above excuses, as a dentist I have to challenge them. I cannot let a patient believe that they are the hapless victim of decay, when they are both the cause and the possible cure. 

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