Preventable Tooth Tales:
Tooth Decay is More Common than You Think
© 2020 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Every year, Americans spend billions on their dental health – whether it’s the latest toothbrush, bleaching treatment or mouthwash. Unfortunately, when it comes to oral health, expensive products and good cleaning habits are often not enough, and that is why millions of people still suffer from tooth decay, gingivitis and periodontitis among several other oral complications.
For many, it takes more than regular brushing and flossing to prevent tooth decay … do you know the additional steps to exceptional oral health, and why they’re so important?
Though you may not know it, preventing tooth decay requires more than simply brushing and flossing twice a day, and when it comes to infants, children, the elderly and impoverished communities, the obstacles are even more abundant.
Shocking Dental Health Statistics ...
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports:
"Tooth decay affects more than one-fourth of U.S. children aged 2–5 years and half of those aged 12–15 years. About half of all children and two-thirds of adolescents aged 12–19 years from lower-income families have had decay."
"Children and adolescents of some racial and ethnic groups and those from lower-income families have more untreated tooth decay. For example, 40% of Mexican American children aged 6–8 years have untreated decay, compared with 25% of non-Hispanic whites. Among all adolescents aged 12–19 years, 20% currently have untreated decay."
"Advanced gum disease affects 4%–12% of U.S. adults. Half of the cases of severe gum disease in the United States are the result of cigarette smoking. The prevalence of gum disease is three times higher among smokers than among people who have never smoked."
"One-fourth of U.S. adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth."
"More than 7,800 people, mostly older Americans, die from oral and pharyngeal cancers each year. This year, about 36,500 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed."
Those are some shocking statistics considering that America is largely celebrated as a nation at the forefront of dental health.
Though tooth decay is not as rampant as obesity, heart disease and other heath epidemics, it is still a dangerous and debilitating problem for your health – one that can, paradoxically, lead to other chronic illness, like heart disease. Ignoring it, like so many millions of Americans do every year is, unfortunately, a huge mistake that can have severe consequences -- among them even death.
To truly understand how to prevent tooth decay, you need to know more about its causes.
What Causes Tooth Decay?
There are several factors that contribute to tooth decay. A big factor is plaque – a combination of food debris, saliva and bacteria that hardens into a sticky deposit on edges, crevices and the gum line of your teeth.
Over time, if plaque isn’t taken care of, it hardens into an even more difficult to remove substance called tartar. Both plaque and tartar contain acids that eventually can dissolve the protective enamel off your teeth, thus resulting in decay in the form of cavities or holes.
Much more than just minor mouth aches or nuisances, cavities are serious and dangerous because they can damage the internal structures of your teeth. In severe cases, they can even kill the nerve and blood vessels of the tooth – resulting in the complete loss and death of the tooth for good.
Dr. Trisha Macnair, a regular health contributor for the BBC, explains the dangers of tooth abscesses (or cavities) as such:
"A serious complication can be the development of a tooth abscess - the buildup of pus resulting from a bacterial infection of the centre of the tooth. Infection may spread out from the root of the tooth and to the bones supporting the tooth."
Cavities are even more concerning when you consider that under several rare circumstances infection can spread from the tooth to the surrounding soft tissues causing life-threatening medical issues such as sinus thrombosis (a particular type of blood clot) or Ludwig's angina (a severe connective tissue infection that can obstruct the airways, necessitating a tracheotomy).
This is a sad fact considering that the elderly, infants, children, poor communities, and menopausal or pregnant women are the most susceptible groups to these problems.
Why is Tooth Decay More Prevalent Among Particular Groups?
As is the case with most diseases, illnesses and medical conditions, the young are more at risk. With tooth decay in particular:
"The enamel on baby teeth is immature and porous. It takes seven years for the porous, chalky enamel to be replaced by more mature, dense, hard, shiny enamel. Therefore children are more prone to cavities than adults."
Similarly, the elderly also have weakened enamel and bone structure and suffer from this unfortunate disposition too.
For pregnant or menopausal women, their tooth sensitivities stem from a number of factors. Specifically:
"During these particular times, a woman's body experiences hormonal changes that can affect many of the tissues in your body, including the gums. Your gums can become sensitive, and at times react strongly to the hormonal fluctuations. This may make you more susceptible to gum disease. Additionally, recent studies suggest that pregnant women with gum disease may be more likely to deliver preterm, low birthweight babies."
Research also finds that genetics play a large role in dental health and specifically:
"...up to 30% of the population may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. Despite aggressive oral care habits, these people may be six times more likely to develop periodontal disease (a gum disease that can result in tooth loss). Identifying these people with a genetic test before they even show signs of the disease and getting them into early interventive treatment may help them keep their teeth for a lifetime."
With so many affected every year, proper prevention techniques are more important than ever. Yet, aside from regular brushing and flossing, where do you begin?
How Do You Prevent Tooth Decay?
Of course, brushing and flossing regularly is important, but there are several other steps you should take too. Specifically, the American Dental Health Association recommends that you:
"Brush twice a day ..."
"Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaner."
"Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking."
"Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examination."
n addition, limiting a diet rich in sugar and starch is also a good because:
"Tooth decay is a destruction of the tooth enamel. It occurs when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches) such as milk, pop, raisins, cakes or candy are frequently left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids as a result. Over a period of time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay."
Your Child Doesn’t Have Teeth Yet, Should You Still Be Concerned About Their Dental Health?
It takes seven years for the enamel on baby teeth to harden. Until then, it is immature and porous, which is why infants and children are especially vulnerable to cavities.
Though infants lack teeth, it is still tremendously important to ensure that their oral hygiene is taken care of. Healthlink BC details:
"Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in the mouth. This can be passed to the baby. If family members have healthy teeth, they will pass on less bacteria to the baby. [You can] Reduce the chance of passing harmful bacteria to your baby by not sharing toothbrushes, not licking soothers to clean them, and not testing your baby’s food with the same spoon that has been in your mouth."
In addition, Healthlink also recommends:
"... checking your child's teeth and mouth every day. Lift the lip so you can see along the gum line when cleaning and look for white spots or brown spots which may be early signs of decay.
It is also important to make an effort to clean your child’s mouth with water, or when they start to get their teeth, child-safe toothpaste – just be careful to monitor their intake intensively.
In addition, though formula and, ideally, breast milk are necessary for ensuring the health and growth of your infant, they can also cause many tooth problems. Specifically:
"Starches and sugars from foods produce acid that can break down tooth enamel and cause tooth decay. Fruit juice, sweetened tea, soft drinks, all types of milk, and formula contain sugars that can cause tooth decay if in contact with teeth for long periods of time. Tooth decay can develop when a child uses a bottle with these liquids for long periods, especially during rest or sleep times. There is also a risk if your child continually sips from a bottle, drinking box, or sipper cup during the day.
Luckily, there are still ways that your child can have milk and keep their teeth healthy. Some doctors such as Dr. Enig and colleague Ms. Fallon recommend that you also supplement your child’s diet with:
"...cod liver oil and butter oil …they are crucial to good dental health. And all the children should be on raw milk, raw cream and raw butter. And of course, keep sweets and white flour to a minimum."
Poor oral health can cause a large array of painful problems including cavities, gingivitis, gum recession, nerve damage and even serious, life-threatening illnesses. Even with proper cleaning techniques, many, especially the young, elderly, pregnant or menopausal women, are still extremely susceptible to erosion – which is why preventative measures are of the utmost importance.
Simple changes, such as monitoring your diet, limiting starches, cleaning regularly and assessing your susceptibility based on age, gender and genetics can be the difference between living a life with a healthy smile and living a life full of oral pain. With so much to gain from so little work, the choice is simple don’t you think?
American Dental Association. Oral Health Care Topics: Tooth Decay.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Cavities, Gum Disease, Tooth Loss, and Oral Cancers; At A Glance.
HealthLink BC. Dental Care for Your Infant and Toddlers. File #19.
BBC Health: Tooth Decay. Dr Trisha Macnair.