In short, yes. Tooth decay can be stopped or reversed – but only if you catch it in the early stages and the decay has not yet reached the dentine, which is the bony tissue beneath a tooth’s enamel.
The process of tooth decay
Tooth decay occurs over a period of time, whenever the oral cavity is under “acid attack.” Acid attack occurs after we eat or drink something that contains sugar or starch, such as white bread, white rice, soft drinks and energy drinks. When we consume these products, our natural oral bacteria use them to produce acids, and these acids weaken the enamel and start eating away at the rest of the tooth. Early stages of decay will appear as white spot lesions on the tooth. If the process of decay continues and the oral cavity is constantly under acid attack, the white spot lesions will continue to weaken the enamel and advance into the dentine, causing permanent tooth damage. By this stage the usual dental treatment is a filling.
How is tooth decay stopped or reversed?
- Saliva: Our own saliva can repair enamel by restoring the minerals in our teeth. Our saliva also neutralises the pH levels in our mouths and washes away any food debris and cavity-causing bacteria. Staying hydrated by drinking lots of water throughout the day stimulates saliva production. If you sense you are not producing enough saliva and your mouth feels dry, you can also try chewing sugar-free chewing gum to stimulate your saliva.
- Limit the frequency of exposure to sugars and starches: Every time you consume sugars/starches the oral cavity is placed under acid attack. It takes around 30 minutes for the pH levels in our saliva to neutralise and start restoring minerals to our teeth, and this increases the risk of developing decay. Try eating more nutritious foods and limit foods and drinks that contain sugars and starches.
- Regular dental check-ups and cleans: A visit to your dentist/hygienist every 6 months will help identify any early signs of tooth decay or gum disease. To stop the progression of any problems, the clinician might apply a fluoride gel to your teeth, and they will also explain the correct techniques of brushing and flossing to ensure you are removing all plaque and bacteria from your teeth and gums.
- Good oral hygiene: Make an effort to brush your teeth twice daily using a fluoridated toothpaste and flossing once daily to maintain good oral health and prevent future tooth decay and gum disease. Your hygienist will happily give you tips on how to maintain optimum dental hygiene.
- Fluoride: Fluoride is a mineral that can prevent tooth decay or stem it in the early stages. Fluoride places the minerals back into the enamel and strengthens our teeth. It also reduces the bacteria’s ability to produce acids.
What are the usual sources of fluoride?
- Tap water (in Australia)
- Fluoride tablets
Dentist – If your dentist feels you need more fluoride they may prescribe a highly concentrated fluoride toothpaste, gel or mouth rinse. If you are unsure of how much fluoride you should be using, please ask your dentist at your next dental check-up.