Say What? Did You Know This About Your Teeth?
You brush. You floss. You don’t use your choppers to pop off a bottle cap or to crush ice. It really should be as easy as A-B-C.
However, when it comes to our teeth, many of us still have a thing or two to learn. Here are 5 facts about your pearly whites that you might not know, even after all these years.
1. Your teeth’s best friend might not be your toothbrush.
Oh, sure, a toothbrush and a strand of floss wielded often and wisely will do wonders for your teeth. You should use both.
But your teeth’s first line of defense against what you put in your mouth is something that’s already there. “Saliva is nature’s disinfecting cavity fighter,” Kimberly Harms, a dentist from Farmington, MN, says.
Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that feeds on sugars from food and drinks. That bacteria — called plaque — can stick to your teeth, producing acids that eat through the enamel on your teeth. Saliva, that trusty old friend, helps rinse out your mouth and neutralize that process.
If you have a dry mouth, getting the same result could be tough. “The buffering effects of saliva, the ability of saliva to counter the bad effects of sugar,” says Howard Pollick, a San Francisco based dentist and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, “[means] if you don’t have enough saliva, [you have] a real problem.”
People who take lots of meds can be especially susceptible to dry mouth and possible tooth decay. Pollick says he carries sugar-free mints around with him. “That’s what I pop in my mouth when my mouth feels dry or I can’t get a snack and I want something,” Pollick says. “That’s what I recommend.”
Another good choice: Keep a bottle of water handy. It’ll do your teeth some good.
2. Snacking and sipping may be hurting your teeth.
Worse than a big old piece of chocolate cake after dinner or that mid-afternoon Snickers break is the non-stop snack-snack-snacking or sip-sip-sipping that goes on in offices and schools across America. “It’s not just how much sugar or starch we eat,” Harms says. “It’s how you eat.”
Remember, the acids created by the bacteria that attack all that carbohydrate-laden stuff you swallow — whether it’s that spoonful of sugar in your morning coffee or that nicely glazed donut — are what get at your teeth. So the more often you eat sugars and other carbs, the more often those acids get a chance to chip away at your choppers.
In short, it’s better (for your teeth, at least) to pig out once than to eat a lot of little meals.
“If you’re eating an entire meal, that’s really one encounter, one acid attack,” Harms says. “But if you’re sipping a soft drink, or eating anything with a carbohydrate in it… each time you take a sip, you’re going to create an acid attack on your teeth. We have a saying: ‘Sip all day, risk decay.'”
Pollick says, “The clearance of that sugar from the mouth takes about 20 minutes. During that 20 minutes, the bacteria on your teeth are very active… and they convert that sugar to acid.” But then within 20 minutes, the acid on your teeth is “sort of” neutralized. “But then if you have another sugar product in your mouth, your mouth is constantly exposed to those bad effects of the sugar and bacteria in your mouth, and you’re constantly getting this demineralization of the tooth surface.” That, he says is what leads to tooth decay and the softening of teeth. “Eventually,” he adds, “[this leads to] pain and root canals; or maybe the teeth need to be pulled. It’s truly devastating for some people.”