Looking after my teeth

How do I prevent tooth decay?

One of the main causes of tooth decay is eating and drinking food which has lots of acid. Sugars and sugary foods in the mouth are the main foods that bacteria thrive on to make acid which can lead to tooth enamel erosion. So how can you prevent this from happening?

Tips to prevent tooth decay

  • Limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks that you have. In particular, don’t snack on sugary foods.
  • Try to reduce the amount of acid in contact with your teeth. So, limit fizzy drinks (including fizzy water) and fruit juices as these tend to be acidic. Perhaps just limit yourself to one fizzy or fruit juice drink a day. Otherwise, choose drinks that are much less acidic, such as still water, and milk, tea, or coffee (without sugar).
  • If you are going to have fizzy drinks and fruit juices, drink them quickly. Don’t swish them around your mouth or hold them in your mouth for any period of time.
  • Brush your teeth at least an hour after eating or drinking anything – especially acidic foods and drinks. This is because the acid in the food and drink softens the tooth enamel. Brushing your teeth when the enamel has been softened can cause the enamel to erode.
  • On the same note, do not brush your teeth within an hour of vomiting (as stomach acid will be part of the vomit).
  • Many people also use an antiseptic mouthwash each day to help prevent gum disease. In particular, for those who are unable to use a toothbrush, regular rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash will help to clean the teeth.
  • Many people also clean their tongue after cleaning their teeth. You can do this with a toothbrush. You can also buy a special plastic tongue scraper from pharmacies.
  • If you smoke, please try stopping smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for developing gum disease.
  • If children need medicines, wherever possible use sugar-free medicines.
  • Some people chew sugar-free gum after each meal. Chewing gum increases the flow of saliva. Saliva helps to flush the mouth to help clear any debris and acid remaining from the meal.

What is tooth decay (caries)?

Tooth decay (or caries) is what happens when holes form in parts of the enamel of the teeth.

What causes tooth decay?

Tooth decay is mainly caused by a build-up of plaque. The bacteria in the plaque react with sugars and starches in food to form acids. The acids are kept next to the teeth by the sticky plaque and these dissolve the tooth enamel.

What happens if I have tooth decay?

If you have tooth decay you may need fillings, crowns or inlays.

What is tooth (dental) erosion?

Tooth erosion is the gradual erosion of tooth enamel by the action of acid on the teeth. It is a common problem.

Over time, tooth erosion can cause thinned enamel, and eventually can expose the softer dentine underneath the enamel. Dentine is sensitive so erosion can lead to your teeth being more sensitive to hot, cold or sweet foods and drinks.

How does tooth erosion differ from tooth decay?

Tooth erosion affects the entire surface of the tooth, while tooth decay is the damage caused by bacteria working on specific parts of the tooth.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease (or periodontal disease) refers to an infection or inflammation of the tissues that surround the teeth.

Gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. It is also a main cause of bad breath (halitosis). However, gum disease is often treatable.

What causes gum disease?

Most cases of gum disease are plaque-related. Plaque contains many different types of bacteria and a build-up of some types of bacteria is associated with developing gum disease.

What types of gum disease are there?

Depending on the severity, gum disease is generally divided into two types:

  • Gingivitis: inflammation of the gums. There are various types. However, most cases of gingivitis are caused by plaque.
  • Periodontitis: This occurs if gingivitis becomes worse and progresses to involve the tissue that joins the teeth to the gums (the periodontal membrane).


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