How Diet Affects Your Teeth

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But I brush my teeth twice a day and floss them daily!”

I get cavities very easily. It runs in the family… We have weak teeth.”

Sound familiar? This is something I often hear when I tell patients they have a new cavity or early signs of them. Because my way of thinking is generally based on no-nonsense, I will not speak nonsense to my patients and therefore will correct any nonsense coming from their mouth. What I will say immediately to the person thinking bad teeth are hereditary is that there is no such thing as hereditary bad teeth. What can be hereditary is

  • diet and lifestyle habits (sort of… at least until you get to decide yourself what to eat and drink and how often)
  • bacteria (but not exactly hereditary, the baby is born without bacteria in mouth and bacteria will be transferred into baby’s mouth normally from the parents)
  • genetic susceptibility to periodontitis (but this does not mean you are doomed to have periodontitis)
  • position and the shape of the teeth

But it is only the diet and lifestyle habits that can be easily changed by person himself to such that is more tooth-friendly. So what is tooth-friendly and what’s not? I will tell you but I cannot do that before I tell you little bit about bacteria first.

Bacteria – the Beloved Enemy

There are bacteria in everyone’s mouth and so there should be. The bacteria keep the soft tissues healthy. Every day the bacteria try to find hiding and breeding places from our teeth forming this sticky glue around them. Bacteria and this glue we call plaque.

We can live in peace with the bacteria if we remove it regularly from the surfaces of our teeth. It is beneficial also to remove it from the surface of the tongue. Brushing twice a day with an electric toothbrush and cleaning between the teeth once a day (the best tool for you to use between the teeth should be checked at the dentist – preferably by the dental hygienist) will prevent the bacteria causing problems like cavities and gum disease.

But if the bacteria can stay in place for longer period of time, there will be consequences. Let’s first think about how it will affect the gums around the teeth.

Healthy gums will start to get inflammation after three days of bacteria presence (there is some individual variation to this) because the bacteria will produce toxins amongst other things. For example if you do not clean between the teeth for four days, the chances are high for you to notice bleeding from the gums when you finally decide to clean them. The bleeding is always a sign of an inflammation in the gum (gingivitis) caused by prolonged bacteria presence. It is never a sign of you doing something wrong with the tool you use. So consider the bleeding as a reminder for you to clean between the teeth more regularly as gingivitis can lead to more severe and irreversible type of gum disease (periodontitis).

The bacteria also produce acids from the carbohydrates in your diet. This is called the acid attack. The acids will affect the teeth.

The acids that the bacteria produce from the carbohydrates will make the pH of the mouth drop below 5,5 and this will remove minerals like calcium from the surface of the teeth. It is called demineralisation. The saliva neutralises these acids bacteria produce and also it is the saliva that will try to restore the lost minerals from the enamel but it is slightly slow process and normally after 30-45 minutes of finishing you dinner/snack the job is done and the pH has risen above 5,5. This is called remineralisation.

The teeth can take only certain amount of demineralisation per day without getting cavities. Too much demineralisation combined with inadequate oral hygiene habits will most certainly lead to decaying. Sometimes very fast decaying.

Not Necessarily What You Eat, but How You Eat It!

So now you know that the demineralisation will begin when you offer carbohydrates to the bacteria in your mouth. There are carbohydrates in pretty much everything we eat. The juices, milk, fruits & veg, bread, cereals, honey, pasta, rice – they all have it. Sweets definitely have it. Even just one tiny grape will begin the demineralisation which will last the next 30-45 minutes before the saliva has neutralised the acids.

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Teeth can take up to 5-6 of these acid attacks per day without getting decay. So if your eating habits include more than 5-6 meals/snacks/drinks with carbohydrates, you have a higher risk of getting decay. How fast the decaying is depends on your oral hygiene habits (plus some other factors like buffer capacity of the saliva but these details will only confuse you so let’s stick to the basics).

The worst you can do to your teeth is to snack every half an hour because this means the pH level that dropped when you began your session of snacking will never raise above the safe level of 5,5. So in the worst case scenario you might take e.g. cookie/fruit every half an hour from midday till you leave work around five to get you through the day. This means that you had a massive 5-hour-long acid attack in your mouth. If this happens often, it will definitely lead to decaying.

Sugar-Free Does Not Always Mean Tooth-Friendly

Soft drinks contain massive amounts of sugar. A 16 oz bottle of coke can have 13 sugar cubes (4g cubes). This is one reason some people switch to sugar-free soft drinks. Often people do not realise that the drinks that are better for the waist-line are still as harmful to teeth as regular soft drinks. The reason for this is the pH of the drink.

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The lower the pH the more harmful it is to teeth. The low pH does not cause decay as such but it causes dental erosion which is as damaging as decaying is. Erosion on teeth means the surface of the tooth is loosing minerals as a result of an acidic drink making the enamel thinner. Here is the most important sentence to memorise:

The enamel does not grow back!

So it is very important to prevent any loss of tooth structure before you are in trouble with sensitive teeth, colour change of the teeth to yellow (thinning enamel allows the yellow dentin under it to show through), decaying (thin enamel decays quicker) and possibly imbalanced bite due to the loss of tooth structure. These problems caused by enamel erosion are very difficult and expensive to treat.

Do not think these things are not happening in your mouth. They are. I see it every day with more and more patients. Remember that the acidic drinks are not recommended to be consumed daily and when you do, consume them with a meal and drink tap water after you have finished eating and drinking. This will neutralise some of the acids.

Here are a couple of examples of the drink’s pH value:

  • cola drinks from 2,32 (Pepsi Max 2.74)
  • lemon juice 2,25
  • 7up 3,24
  • Ocean Spray Cranberry 2,56
  • strawberry Dasani 3
  • pure water 6-8
  • Red Bull 3,3
  • Full Throttle 1,45

Remember that the plain sparkling water’s pH is around 5. But if you add flavour to it with your soda maker the pH will drop close to 3 or even below it. So it is always better to choose the plain sparkling water than the flavoured one but it is worth noting that there is still a debate amongst us dental professionals whether the plain sparkling water is harmful to the enamel.

If you want to find out more about the pH value of the drinks, click here. And here is an article worth reading: The Washington Post: Why flavoured waters are bad for you teeth.

Vegan Diet and Erosion

Vegan diet in a nutshell means that the diet is devoid of all animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy. The vegans who base their diet on fruits and vegetables are at higher risk of developing dental erosion. The culprit for this is the acidity of the diet and lack of calcium in diet.

Patient Case

50-year-old lady came in to see me for the first time. She had been on a vegan diet for almost all her life. She started the day with a lukewarm water with a splash of lemon followed by a smoothie after which she brushed her teeth with a non-fluoride toothpaste. During the day she followed her vegan diet, drank herbal teas between the meals. In the evening she brushed her teeth again with a non-fluoride toothpaste.

The clinical findings:
The enamel of every single teeth was riddled with severe erosion. The fillings she had were protruding from the tooth as the tooth structure itself had dissolved around them. She had suffered from sensitive teeth and could not eat or drink anything too cold. The enamel of her front teeth were so thin that the colour of the teeth was yellow from the dentin showing through. The front teeth looked like the gremlin’s teeth due to chipping of the thinned enamel. She would need extensive rehabilitation of the occlusion and the aesthetics with crowns and fillings. Needless to say that the treatment would cost a small fortune.

What was the downfall of her teeth? Well, many factors contributed to this severe dental erosion:

  1. The combination of acidic diet and lack of calcium-containing products in the diet. It is advisable to combine acidic food with a dairy product. For example by adding natural yoghurt to your smoothie.
  2. The breakfast should include something you chew. Your saliva flow has dramatically decreased over night and it is chewing that will make the saliva flow again. If you drink something acidic when the mouth is dry (in this patient’s case lemon water and non-dairy smoothie) there is no saliva to protect the teeth. It is the saliva that neutralises acids and restores the minerals back to the enamel.
  3. Non-Fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride will work like calcium on the enamel. It will form even a stronger layer on the surface of the tooth than calcium and other minerals found on enamel. So when using only non-fluoride toothpaste, you are relying on your saliva to do the remineralisation. But like with this patient it simply was not enough to protect the teeth.
  4. Unawareness. Not knowing how our diet affects your teeth is the downfall of many. This patient had acidic vegan diet plus drinks that are highly acidic like water with lemon and the herbal teas.

Other Harmful Diets

There are new fashionable diets popping up all the time and I might not know all of them. But to name a few:

  • Juicing – everything is in a form of a juice. The problem with teeth: no chewing means no saliva to protect your teeth! No dairy-products.
  • Smoothie diet. The problem with teeth: no chewing or no dairy-products.
  • Alkaline diet. No this is a bugger considering teeth. They have their own pH chart for the foods that can mislead people into thinking that some foods are absolutely safe to eat as often as desired. Their pH chart tells what the pH of certain food is when you digest it. Let’s take lemon as an example. In alkaline diet’s pH chart lemon has pH of 10, but when the lemon is entering the mouth, the pH level is 2.0 which is highly acidic and harmful to teeth if teeth are exposed to it often.

How to Protect Your Teeth from Your Diet?

  • If you decide to follow certain trendy diet, find out first how it will affect your teeth. Do not turn to Google if you are not able to tell the difference between fake health news and real, scientifically proven advice. Ask your dentist or hygienist instead.
    These fake health news -sites are very convincing. Even I almost started to believe in the nonsense they were writing when researching for this post. So be alert, trust the dental professionals who have many years of education that is based on science.
  • Think about your current diet. Does it include lots of acidic drinks or foods. You can find out the pH level of many foods and drinks from the internet.
  • Finish your dinner or snack to a slice of cheese. Chew it well. This will neutralise the acids and restore the calcium to the enamel (cheese is rich in calcium).
  • Finish your dinner or snack to a Xylitol. This will neutralise the acids after dinner. Two pastilles sweetened 100% by xylitol five times a day will also decrease a chance of decay. Want to find out more about xylitol, click here.
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  • Use products like GC MI Paste Plus or GC Tooth Mousse to restore the lost calcium in your enamel. The GC Tooth Mousse can be used many times a day as it does not contain fluoride. The best time to use it is just before bedtime by applying pea-size-amount with e.g. cotton stick all over the teeth and leaving it overnight.
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  • Use fluoride toothpaste twice a day and do not rinse your mouth after brushing. Just spit out.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks and juices. Only drink them at mealtimes and try to avoid daily consumption.
  • Avoid snacking. But if you do snack, remember that natural nuts are tooth-friendly snack.
  • Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation. Alcohol is always a risk to your teeth, mouth and general health. It is an acidic drink and the bacteria in your mouth will metabolise the alcohol into acetaldehyde which is carcinogenic in humans.
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Profit, Profit And More Profit

Dental Revelations Blog-3559

Do you sometimes feel like screaming after something you read? I do.

I just read a very good article about a new ingredient in toothpaste that will save the teeth of many people. I must say I am normally sceptical about these kinds of releases in the field of dental hygiene products as it is not rocket science when it comes to keeping your teeth healthy. Really!

If you are a healthy individual and you

  1. brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  2. clean between the teeth most nights (no-one is perfect – apart from me as I do it meticulously every night)
  3. maintain healthy eating habits (eating 5-6 times per day including the snacks)
  4. don’t drink anything else than water/plain coffee/tea between the meals/snacks

Then you do not get decay. But having said that remember that your teeth won’t suffer from the odd relapse of the routine and good habits. Celebrations, night out, traveling normally mess up the routines and that’s fine. No worries. Your teeth won’t decay because of them as long as you get back to the routines again.

And because it is as simple as this I have found that the news of groundbreaking techniques/bristles in toothbrushes or breakthrough ingredients in toothpastes/mouthwashes are simply ways of marketing for the dental hygiene product manufacturers.

Today it was this toothpaste. With an ingredient that will slowly release calcium, phosphate and fluoride ions. All those that are lost from the enamel of the tooth when we eat or drink something with carbohydrates.

By the way, I never speak about sugar as it is misleading – people tend to think that e.g. bread does not cause decay as it doesn’t have sugar in it (well some do, but you get my point I hope). But it has carbohydrates and if the bread is eaten as a snack many times a day, the bacteria will metabolise the carbohydrates to acid many times a day. And the acids will remove minerals from the enamel of the tooth.

When I began reading the news I said to myself

Just give it a chance… for once just read it through!

And I did. And I found my excitement getting bigger. And bigger. Finally something that might improve the oral hygiene of the ones that are not responsible for decaying of their teeth like children or people suffering from extreme dryness of the mouth.

While I was reading I heard a voice in my head criticising me for being always so sceptical about the dental hygiene products. I started to think that maybe I have missed something important over the years when I have not given a chance for this sort of news.

But then. I began to read the last sentence:

A fluoride free version of xxxxxx is also being developed for individuals who do not want or need fluoride toothpaste.

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeb.

Somebody-pulled-the-plug-feeling. Then anger.

Once again a new innovation is motivated by profit. Or perhaps there was a genuine desire to find something that would be “The Product” for the sufferers of the decay. But when it became groundbreaking innovation it immediately made it a product with high profit potential. And if you have read my previous post about integrity in dentistry you understand that it is the greed that is orchestrating this release of the toothpaste. No matter how good the initial intentions were.

A Fluoride Free Version? Are You Serious?

I read through many articles about this new ingredient and all of them had one thing in common.

The slow release of fluoride has been identified to be particularly beneficial in prevention of tooth decay.

This sentence in the same article with my previous quote. Do I need to say more? I don’t think so but I will.

I will break down the first quote.

…for individuals who do not want…

Of course there are people who do not want to use fluoride toothpaste. I have written about them in my another previous post Anti-Patients.  But these are the ones who need our guidance in this matter. What they don’t need is another sign from the dental professionals that it is ok to use a fluoride free toothpaste. When it is not.

…for individuals who do not… … need to use fluoride toothpaste.

Excuse me? Do they mean the people who have dentures or mouth full of implants and no teeth at all? They must have as I haven’t met any individual with natural teeth who do not need fluoride toothpaste. But then again if they have meant these people with dentures and implants why would they use this toothpaste anyway?

Conclusion

I am just simply and utterly annoyed and ashamed of the motives of some of the dental professionals. With just one sentence that is spreading in the internet fast and far they made lives of good and honest dentists, hygienists and nurses more difficult when they try to convince patients to use fluoride toothpaste.

The toothpaste manufacturers must be now competing bitterly to get their new toothpaste with this groundbreaking ingredient in the market first. The one that wins this competition is the one that probably paid the most to the company that developed this ingredient.

You would think that they would make enough money just by making fluoride toothpaste as majority of people do use it. But that is so very typical for dentistry – to squeeze out every dollar/pound/euro (or whatever) you can from an opportunity.

Money, profit, creed. A triangle of shame.

When will there be a dental hygiene product line that looks out the consumer’s best interest and is based on the advices of dental professionals? Effective enough electric toothbrush, soap-free fluoride toothpaste (soap is there just for because people think the foam makes it more effective), effective floss and interdental brushes (well there is already one of both, click here to find out which).

In the past and currently there are dental hygiene products that are made for what patient’s are looking for

  • a cheap electric toothbrush (battery operated)
  • toothpaste that will deal with all the problems in mouth in one go and it makes mouth full of foam too
  • good tasting and easy to use floss/tape in a fancy looking package

This confuses the consumers as all these products are advertised as if they were very effective. They are not effective in cleaning the teeth and they are just big companies’ way of maximising the profit when they reach all the needs of all different types of people.

I am tempted to write little bit about new models of the manual toothbrushes that the manufacturers bring out every year with massive advertisement campaigns. I am amused every time I see toothbrush ad on tv. It’s just a manual toothbrush for god’s sake. How much can you do developing for it? It has a handle and bristles. That’s all.


Here’s a link to one of the articles about this new ingredient (for those who do not know what on earth I am on about).