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Understanding Tooth Decay and Fluoride

Tooth decay is only second to the common cold in terms of the number of people who have experienced it. Tooth decay leads to cavities; these must be filled as soon as possible, to prevent the decay (and the bacteria that causes it) from causing other problems in the body, and to avoid an extraction, which today is an intensive procedure requiring oral surgery. It also comes with a long recovery time, an increased risk of postoperative infection, and the side effects that are associated with lost teeth. Cavities that are untreated can also cause the formation of an abscess on your gums, which can be potentially deadly.

In our Cincinnati, OH dental practice (Anderson Dental Care), we can treat the consequences of tooth decay, and we can even help to replace your lost teeth with dental implants. Obviously, it is better to avoid these problems if possible. We offer a number of treatments that can prevent tooth decay and infections, but the cornerstone of all preventive dentistry is a disciplined, informed approach to oral health on your part. You know you need to brush, floss, and rinse at least twice a day, as well as seeing your dentist for cleanings at least twice yearly. Do you know why? We’ve observed that it is helpful for patients to understand tooth decay, how it works, and why the treatments we use work.

How Tooth Decay Works

Tooth decay is caused by the oral bacteria that live in your mouth (and everyone else’s, for that matter). Oral bacteria metabolize (or “eat”) glucose, they produce waste in the form of powerfully corrosive organic acids. Glucose is a type of sugar found in many foods (most notably those foods that are highly processed and contain a large amount of refined sugar; it is also found in large quantities in “carbs”, which includes pastas, breads, cookies, and candy). Glucose is also present in your bodily fluids (including your saliva). After you eat, tiny bits of food remain in your mouth, which is how your oral bacteria are able to access the majority of the glucose they consume.

The more glucose in your mouth, the more bacteria you will have, which is why it is important to have a diet that is low in refined sugar and to clean your teeth often (if only a quick rinse with water to eliminate food particles). This is why we often say that neglecting one’s oral care is the real cause of tooth decay.

Enamel and Tooth Decay

You cannot fully eliminate the bacteria that inhabit your mouth (nor would you want to; there is an evolutionary benefit to the largely cooperative relationship between human beings and the bacteria that inhabits your mouth, as well as the bacteria in the rest of your body). This means that your teeth are under constant threat of destruction, and your teeth have evolved a powerful physical defense against decay, infection, and disease: your enamel.

Enamel is the hardest substance that occurs naturally in your body. It is composed of mineral crystals that are tightly packed together, forming a barrier between the interior of the tooth and the external environment. Enamel does not heal in the same way as other parts of your body might. It does however “regenerate”  itself to a degree through a continuous process of remineralization. The acids that cause tooth decay must first get through the enamel to reach the dentin and other internal parts of your teeth. The acids break down the enamel by removing the mineral crystals that it is made of; this process is called demineralization.

Your teeth are effectively protected by your enamel, provided that the rate of enamel remineralization is greater than the rate of demineralization. If this balance is lost due to an overabundance of oral bacteria, the enamel is compromised. Small pits that are created when the acids penetrate the enamel are the beginnings of cavities, which can lead to more serious infections, diseases, tooth loss, and under the right circumstances, can even have fatal consequences (if an abscess forms and goes unaddressed).

Understanding The Role of Fluoride

Fluoride is critical to protecting your teeth from decay, and by extension, your entire body from serious ailments. Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical, and it is found naturally in water and even the food you eat. You can benefit from fluoride whether it is applied topically to your teeth, or through your system when you consume it with food and drink.

Fluoride accelerates the remineralization process that allows you enamel to continue protecting your teeth from decay; in addition, fluoride also adds additional protection from the effects of the acid that causes tooth decay, and provides greater strength for the enamel overall.

Fluoride is more or less ubiquitous, especially since the fluoridation of public water supplies began in the 1950’s.  Even so, some people need additional fluoride treatments because their remineralization is slower than others. In our practice,  We offer topical fluoride treatments to help your enamel protect your teeth.

I’ve heard a lot of negative things about fluoridation; is there any truth to any of these?

Fluoridation of public water sources is considered one of the great medical miracles of the 20th century. On a total population level, fluoride protects public health by helping to prevent tooth decay that can lead to more serious health problems. As a result, water fluoridation is one of the least expensive ways to demonstrably increase the quality of life for entire populations (at least those who have access to it; in places where water distribution infrastructure is less developed, fluoridation is accomplished by adding fluoride to table salt). You might have heard the various criticisms of fluoridation that have arisen over the years since it began in the 50’s, which can range from more “sober” assertions that fluoride doesn’t have an effect on the public health at all, to conspiracies involving such far-out concepts like eugenics and even the “Reptilian” conspiracy (go ahead and look it up; trust us when we say it’s pretty ridiculous).

Concerned About Your Level of Tooth Protection?

Give us a call! We can provide you with the preventive dentistry procedures that will ensure the health of your teeth, gums, and stop infections before they start.

Dial 714-988-2167 to reach Anderson Dental Care’s front desk, or simply click here to reach our online appointment form to book your visit right now!