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How to Assess Your Risk for Tooth Decay

What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is damage to a tooth’s enamel. This can happen when harmful bacteria in your mouth create acids that attack the tooth’s surface. These bacteria soften the tooth’s enamel and dentin, causing a small holes in the tooth called a cavity. This can cause infection or tooth loss if left untreated.

Early tooth decay has little to no symptoms, but as it progresses, it can cause toothache and sensitivity to sweets, temperature of the food and liquid intake. If the tooth becomes infected an abscess, which is a pocket of puss, can form. This abscess causes discomfort, fever, and facial swelling.

Causes of Tooth Decay

The combination of bacteria and the food and drinks you consume causes tooth decay. A clear sticky substance called plaque is always forming on your teeth. Plaque contains bacteria that feed on the sugars in the food you eat and the beverages you drink.

The bacteria forms an acid that attacks the tooth’s enamel making it lose its minerals. Sipping on a fizzy drink, for example, can repeatedly expose your teeth to acid which causes the enamel to continue mineral loss.

Sugary foods and drinks are best consumed with other meals so that healthy foods can clean your teeth of the acids. Foods that stick to teeth, such as toffee can increase your risk for developing tooth decay.

Risk Factors in Tooth Decay

Anyone with teeth is at risk of tooth decay. Some factors you can control, while others you cannot.

Things you can control include practicing good oral hygiene, using fluoride toothpaste, limiting sugary foods and alcohol and avoiding tobacco products.

Factors you can’t control are respiratory conditions that dry out your mouth like asthma, using medicines that contain sugar, and ofcourse age.

Infants and toddlers are at risk of baby bottle tooth decay which occurs when the child is put to bed with a bottle of milk, juice or formula. The sugar in these drinks feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Young children’s teeth are still growing, and the minerals in new teeth are not stable making it easier for acids to eat away at the enamel.

Older adults may have receding gums that allow decay-causing bacteria to cause root cavities.

Diagnosis & Prevention of Tooth Decay

Earlier detection of tooth decay may appear as a white spot on the tooth. More advanced tooth decay can emerge as a dark spot or a hole in the tooth.

X-rays are used to detect decay, but your dentist may also check if a sensitive tooth is soft or sticky for tooth decay.

Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing and using mouthwash once a day improves oral health. Regular dental check-ups are vital to keeping your teeth healthy. Hygienists remove all the plaque from your teeth which inhibits tooth decay. They can also spot signs of decay so it can be treated before it can worsen.

Dental sealants are a thin coating that is painted onto the premolars and molars of children. The painless procedure is the best way to protect kid’s teeth from cavities, and they are easier to clean.

Raw vegetables can scrape plaque off teeth. Calcium in dairy products strengthens teeth and can help fight off harmful bacteria. Sugarless chewing gum can remove food particles and induce saliva production to help wash away food debris.

Tooth Decay Treatment

A small amount of erosion on your enamel may be treated using an approach that helps repair that spot. This treatment can include a medicated mouthwash or toothpaste that contains high levels of fluoride and calcium.

A smaller cavity is repaired using a filling, while a large cavity may require an Inlay or Onlay or even a crown to protect its structure and restore its functionality.

To save the tooth with an abscess, a root canal treatment needs to be done. Once the infection is removed, the chamber is sealed, and the tooth is typically restored with a crown.

If the tooth cannot be saved, you will need an extraction. Your dentist will only use this as a last resort and can help you choose a suitable tooth replacement option.

Prevent tooth decay by practicing good oral hygiene and visiting your dentist twice a year for professional teeth cleaning and a dental exam.

Louisa, Susan. “How to assess your risk of tooth decay.” Denthusiast,

Dry Mouth – Facts and Tips

Many people experience dry mouth once in a while. This is most likely caused by dehydration, drinking one too many beers, or simply sleeping with an open mouth.

Unfortunately for others, a dry mouth is a chronic problem that can have a stressful impact on their day-to-day life. In addition to these physical side effects, it can also leave people feeling a lack of confidence in social situations, to a point where eating and speaking in public becomes disappointing.

Current research estimates that around one in four adults suffer from a dry mouth condition and this number rises to 40% in people with age over-55s which makes “dry mouth” one of the most common oral health problems.

Here are some facts that might help you understand the dry mouth condition and some advices for managing it.

Top ten facts about dry mouth:

  • Dry mouth, also known as ‘xerostomia’ is a condition that affects the flow of saliva, which causes your mouth to feel dry.
  • Saliva is the most important component in the mouth. Your mouth needs saliva to be able to work properly. It keeps your mouth moist, helps to break down a part of your food and helps you to swallow. It also acts as a cleanser, neutralizing plaque acids. Saliva keeps your teeth clean, constantly works around in your mouth and fights teeth decay.
  • The taste of the food is compromised when there is less saliva in the mouth and makes it harder to eat dry foods. Sometimes it can affect your speech and it makes people more likely to have a bad breath.
  • Dry mouth is usually worse at night than in the day since the mouth produces less saliva in the night than in the daytime. This causes dehydration and broken sleep. 
  • Dry mouth can cause the mouth to become sore and there is a higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
  • It can be caused as a result of old age, or, quite often it is a side effect of medication – especially heart, blood pressure, gastritis and depression tablets. Your doctor, pharmacist or dentist should be able to tell you whether your medication can cause problems.
  • In some cases, dry mouth can be a direct result of a medical condition for example diabetes, lupus, Jorgen’s syndrome and blocked salivary glands. 
  • Women are more likely to suffer from chronic dry mouth than men which is 27% compared to men 21%. 
  • Studies have shown that those that suffer from chronic dry mouth also have a higher risk of mental health illnesses and social anxiety.
  • Currently, there is no way of actually preventing the problem, although there are products to ease the symptoms.

Top five tips:

  • Make sure you regularly visit your dentist. Dry mouth causes a higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease. These can get worse quicker than usual. So it is important to visit your dentist regularly. They will tell you how often you should visit.
  • It is important to use a fluoride toothpaste containing at least 1350 to 1500ppm (parts per million) of fluoride. Be aware that some products contain Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), and some people with dry mouth find this can irritate the mouth which can worsen the condition.
  • There are several products designed to help your mouth stay moist and comfortable. These are usually gels or sprays. Some have extra ingredients that may help prevent tooth and gum problems. There are also special products to help with your day-to-day oral hygiene (for example toothpaste and mouth rinses).
  • Chewing sugar-free gum can help ease dry mouth as it encourages your mouth to make saliva. Your dentist might recommend products such as rinses, gels, pastes, and lozenges which also keeps your mouth moist.
  • Some people find that sipping water or sucking sugar-free sweets helps for a short period. It is very important to use sugar-free products; as dry mouth can make you more likely to have tooth decay.

Loat, Stephen. “Facts and Tips: Dry mouth.”  Oral Heath Foundation, 13 Sep 2019

5 Things to Know About Getting a Brighter Smile

Brushing and flossing are everyday ways to keep your teeth bright, white and healthy. Still, if you might feel like your smile is lacking some sparkle or is more yellow than it used to be, you’re not alone. When the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry asked people what they’d most like to improve about their smile, the most common response was whiter teeth. The American Association of Orthodontists also found that nearly 90% of patients requested tooth whitening.

Thinking about teeth whitening? Get the facts first. Here are five of the most commonly asked questions about the process.

Why Did My Teeth Change Color?

Over time, your teeth can go from white to not-so-bright for several reasons:

Food and Drink:

Coffee, tea and red wine are some major staining culprits. What do they have in common? Intense color pigments called chromogens that attach to the white, outer part of your tooth (enamel).

Tobacco Use:

Two chemicals found in tobacco create stubborn stains: Tar and nicotine. Tar is naturally dark. Nicotine is colorless until it’s mixed with oxygen. Then, it turns into a yellowish, surface-staining substance.


Below the hard, white outer shell of your teeth (enamel) is a softer area called dentin. Over time, the outer enamel layer gets thinner with brushing and more of the yellowish dentin shows through.


If you’ve been hit in the mouth, your teeth may change color because it reacts to an injury by laying down more dentin, which is a darker layer under the enamel.


Tooth darkening can be a side effect of certain antihistamines, antipsychotics and high blood pressure medications. Young children who are exposed to antibiotics like tetracycline and doxycycline when their teeth are forming (either in the womb or as a baby) may have discoloration of their adult teeth later in life. Chemotherapy radiation for the head and neck can also darken teeth.

How Does Teeth Whitening Work?

Teeth whitening is a simple process. Whitening products contain one of two tooth bleaches (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide). These bleaches break stains into smaller pieces, which makes the color less concentrated and your teeth brighter.

Does Whitening Work on All Teeth?

No, which is why it’s important to talk to your dentist before deciding to whiten your teeth, as whiteners may not correct all types of discoloration. For example, yellow teeth will probably bleach well, brown teeth may not respond as well and teeth with gray tones may not bleach at all. Whitening will not work on caps, veneers, crowns or fillings. It also won’t be effective if your tooth discoloration is caused by medications or a tooth injury.

What Are My Whitening Options?

Talk to your dentist before starting. If you are a candidate, there are four ways to put the shine back in your smile:

Stain Removal Toothpastes:

All kinds of toothpastes help remove surface stains through the action of mild abrasives that scrub the teeth. Look for a whitening toothpaste that has earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance for stain removal (it will tell you on the package). These kinds of toothpaste have additional polishing agents that are safe for your teeth and provide stain removal effectiveness. Unlike bleaches, these types of ADA-Accepted products do not change the color of teeth because they can only remove stains on the surface.

In-Office Bleaching:

This procedure is called chairside bleaching and usually requires only one office visit. The dentist will apply either a protective gel to your gums or a rubber shield to protect your gums. Bleach is then applied to the teeth.

At-Home Bleaching from Your Dentist:

Your dentist can provide you with a custom-made tray for at-home whitening. In this case, the dentist will give you instructions on how to place the bleaching solution in the tray and for what length of time. This may be a preferred option if you feel more comfortable whitening in your own home at a slower pace, but still with the guidance of a dentist. Out-of-office bleaching can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Over-the-Counter Bleaching Products:

You may see different options online or in your local grocery store, such as a paste or strips that whiten by bleaching your teeth. The concentration of the bleaching agent in these products is lower than what your dentist would use in the office. If you are thinking about using an over-the-counter bleaching kit, discuss options with your dentist and look for one with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. That means it has been tested to be safe and effective for teeth whitening. Get a list of all ADA-Accepted at-home bleaching products.

Are There Any Side Effects from Teeth Whitening?

Some people who use teeth whiteners may experience tooth sensitivity. This happens when the peroxide in the whitener gets through the enamel to the soft layer of dentin and irritates the nerve of your tooth. In most cases the sensitivity is temporary. You can delay treatment, then try again.

Overuse of whiteners can also damage the tooth enamel or gums, so be sure to follow directions and talk to your dentist.

5 Ways to Care for Your Mouth When You’re Sick

When you have a cold or the flu, taking care of your body is your top priority and that includes your mouth. 

Here are some simple ways to care for your dental health when you’re not feeling well: 

Practice Good Hygiene

When you’re sick, you know to cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze. Don’t forget to keep up your dental and toothbrush hygiene as well.

According to the Center for Chronic Disease, the flu virus can live on moist surfaces for 72 hours. The number one rule is not to share your toothbrush anytime, especially when you are sick.

You also probably don’t need to replace your toothbrush after you’ve been sick. Unless your immune system is severely compromised, the chances of reinfecting yourself are very low. But if you’re still in doubt, throw it out. Especially if you’ve had your toothbrush for 3-4 months then it’s time to replace it anyway.

Choose Sugar-Free Cough Drops

Read the label before you pick up a bag at the drugstore intending to avoid ingredients like fructose or corn syrup. Many cough drops contain sugar, and it is like sucking on candy. Sugar is a culprit when it comes to cavities. The longer you keep a sugary cough drop in your mouth, the more time cavity-causing bacteria has to feast on that sugar, which produces the acid that can weaken tooth enamel and cause cavities and decay.

Swish and Spit After Vomiting

One unfortunate side effect of the stomach flu, among other illnesses, is vomiting. You might be tempted to brush your teeth right away, but it’s better to wait. When you vomit, stomach acids are coming in contact with your teeth and coating them. If you brush too soon, you’re just rubbing that acid all over the hard outer shell of your teeth.

Instead, swish with water, a diluted mouth rinse or a mixture of water and 1 tsp. baking soda to help wash the acid away. Spit, and brush about 30 minutes later.

Stay Hydrated to Avoid Dry Mouth

When you’re sick, you need plenty of fluids for many reasons. One is to prevent dry mouth. Not only is it uncomfortable, but dry mouth can also put you at greater risk for cavities. The medications you might be taking for a cold or flu, such as antihistamines, decongestants or pain relievers can also dry out your mouth, so drink plenty of water and suck on sugarless cough drops, throat lozenges or candies to keep that saliva flowing.

Choose the Right Fluids

The safest thing to drink is water. Sports drinks might be recommended to replenish electrolytes when you’re sick, but drink them in moderation and don’t make them a habit after you’ve recovered because unless they are a sugar-free version, they contain a lot of sugar. You might also want something to warm you up. When you have a cold or the flu, you may want something comforting to get through it, like tea. Try not to add sugar or lemon. Sugar can help to fuel cavity-causing bacteria, and lemon is acidic. It’s something to keep in mind once you’re feeling a 100% again, as well.

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