Little known fact: the most commonly cited medical disqualification for those called to fight in WWII was tooth decay and loss of teeth. Back then, there was little you could do to stop tooth decay. The importance of dental health cannot be overstated, which is why you need to know how to stop tooth decay in its tracks and how to prevent future decay.
Most people are aware that poor dental hygiene can cause gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath (1). However, did you know that gum disease and tooth decay both put you at a higher risk for diabetes, preterm labor, heart disease, and strokes (2)?
Since WWII, scientists in the field of dentistry have made incredible strides in the prevention and treatment of cavities, rotting teeth, and gum disease. While tooth decay was once thought to be incurable and irreversible, they have now identified ways to cure tooth decay and prevent cavities (3).
What Causes Tooth Decay?
In very simplified terms, tooth decay is caused by a combination of harmful bacteria, sugars, and acid (4).
Just like the rest of your body, there are both good and bad bacteria in the mouth. Good bacteria keeps things clean and helps keep bad bacteria from running amuck (5). Plaque, the sticky whitish film that covers your teeth after eating and drinking through the course of the day, is an example of harmful bacteria.
Plaque and other bacteria rely on the sugars and starches in your food to produce an acid. It is this acid that eats away at the minerals and protective compounds in the enamel on your teeth and initiates tooth decay (6).
At this point, the tooth decay can be stopped or even reversed with the help of saliva and proper dental hygiene.
Natural toothpaste, for example, contains the minerals your mouth needs to remineralize your teeth.
You may notice spots on your teeth where the coloring is just slightly different than the rest of your tooth. This is an early sign of tooth decay and indicates a spot where enamel can still be rebuilt/remineralized.
It’s important to remember, however, that enamel can only rebuild on existing enamel. Once that protective coating is lost from that spot, a cavity can form.
What is a Cavity?
Cavities are permanently damaged areas that form after enamel has been eaten away. Also known as dental caries, cavities are the beginning of tooth rot. If not addressed, a cavity can eat away the entire inside of the tooth. This includes the root (or pulp) that is connected to nerves, blood vessels, and other gum tissue (7).
You may not notice cavities right away. A dentist identifies early cavities by looking for soft spots on the teeth. If a cavity has been present for a while, then you may get a toothache or pain in one spot when you eat something hot, cold, or sweet. At this point, you should visit a dentist so they can repair the cavity before it spreads to the entire tooth.
Repairing Dental Decay
The stages of conventional dental repair are as follows:
- Small cavity: a dentist removes the decayed/rotting portion of the tooth with specialized dental tools. The remaining exposed, healthy hole in your tooth is then filled with silver amalgam, gold, porcelain, or a composite (8).
- Crown: If a cavity has spread to most of the surface (and inside) of your tooth, then your dentist will have to remove all of the rotted areas and cover the rest of the surface of the tooth with a crown. Crowns use the same materials as fillings (9).
- Root canal: once tooth decay reaches the root of the tooth, your dentist will need to remove the root, nerve, any blood vessels, and any affected tissue beneath the tooth. The root is filled with a sealant, and the remainder of the tooth is covered with a crown (10).
- Dental implant: If the root has been affected and there is not enough tooth remaining for a root canal, you or your dentist may opt to have the tooth pulled. Implants help to prevent further damage to the tissue and jawbone beneath the tooth. After pulling the affected tooth, your dentist will drill a root implant into the bone socket. Once your jawbone has healed around the implant, they will attach an artificial tooth to it (11).
- Dentures: Dentures are artificial, removable teeth. When a group or all of a person’s teeth are removed (usually due to a combination of poor dental hygiene and gum disease), dentures are used to replace the teeth (12). However, they’re usually the last resort.
How to Stop Tooth Decay
Here are a few ways to stop (or reverse!) tooth decay in its tracks. If you already suffer from severe tooth decay, visit a dentist immediately to avoid losing your teeth and prevent gum disease.
1. Soak up More Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your teeth remineralize (13). Tooth enamel is made up mostly of calcium and phosphate – both of which require vitamin D for absorption (14). Believe it or not, your teeth contain their own vitamin D receptors for this very reason (15). Increase your vitamin D intake with food and be sure to spend some time in the sun to activate it.
2. Get Enough Phosphorous
As mentioned above, phosphorous is a key component of tooth enamel. The calcium in your teeth requires phosphorous to create hardened enamel and provide adequate protection (16). Phosphorus-rich foods include nuts, meats, eggs, garlic, tomatoes, wheat germ, beans, and more (17).
3. Eat Fewer Sweets
The science of tooth decay is relatively simple: the acid that eats away at your enamel cannot form without sugars from your food. As such, dietary sugars are considered the biggest risk factor in regards to dental health. The World Health Organization’s guidelines suggest that a maximum of 5% of your total daily calories can from refined sugars (18).
4. Stop Drinking Soda
Sodas contain not only incredibly unhealthy amounts of sugar but also enamel-eating acids (19). Even sugar-free diet soda contain harmful acids that can damage your teeth for up to 20 minutes after drinking (20). If you sip on soda all day, that means your teeth are slowly being damaged all day. Limit sodas and fruit juices to one serving (or less!) daily or avoid it completely if you can.
5. Sleep with Your Mouth Closed
Sleeping with your mouth open does more than make you snore: it also increases your risk of tooth decay. When your mouth is left open, saliva levels decrease. Since saliva is your first line of defense against tooth decay, you want to prevent your mouth from drying out (21). Sleeping with your mouth open when your sinuses are blocked from a temporary cold won’t do too much harm. If you notice that you sleep with your mouth open out of something more than habit, visit your doctor or dentist to find out if there is a deeper issue (22).
6. Brush Your Teeth Before Meals
You may think that it’s best to brush your teeth after eating, but that can do more harm than good. The acid in your food temporarily softens enamel, so you really don’t want to use an abrasive brush while your teeth are in a weakened state (23).
If you plan on eating or drinking something acidic, it’s best to brush beforehand to have a fresh layer of mineral protection.
7. Switch to Remineralizing Toothpaste
Thanks to research and scientific studies over the last several decades, dental products have improved dramatically. Since you’ll want to skip the fluoridated stuff, you can make your own remineralizing toothpaste at home.
Remineralizing toothpaste boosts the effectiveness of natural protective and repair processes in your mouth. This will help further prevent and reverse tooth decay.
8. Drink Green Juice
Fruit and sugar-laden smoothies can do harm to your pearly whites – this is well established. Leafy green vegetables, on the other hand, can provide the minerals and nutrients needed to help your teeth remineralize.
These vegetables are rich in calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium, minerals your teeth desperately need (24). You can juice them in a juicer, or make yourself a green smoothie with healthy, whole food ingredients. Drink with a straw to limit contact with your teeth as you drink.
9. Eat More Cashews
Nuts, in general, contain helpful enamel-building nutrients, but cashews are in a league of their own. Cashew nuts and the fruit they grow from are naturally high in bacteria-fighting compounds (25). Eating a handful of cashews is an effective way of killing the harmful bacteria in your mouth. Bonus: they’re a great source of healthy fats.
10. Consider Oil Pulling
While clinical research on the subject of oil pulling is still young, the abundance of anecdotal evidence to support its benefits is hard to ignore. Oil pulling is no substitute for brushing and flossing, but it can be a great replacement for mouthwash (26).
If you have trouble swishing that tingly liquid for 30 seconds at a time, using an organic, high-quality oil will do the trick! You can find directions for oil pulling here.
11. Drink Neem Tea
Neem is actually a type of tree. The bark, leaves, and seeds are popular in alternative medicine – including neem leaf tea for dental health.
Its tea leaves are powerfully antibacterial and prevent plaque formation in the mouth (27).
Neem leaves are also renowned for their ability to combat bad breath (caused by bacteria).
Taking care of your teeth is one of the easiest and best ways to keep yourself healthy. It will also save you money in the long term: a tube of toothpaste and a good brush are pennies on the dollar compared to the costs of dental repair or medications to fight gum disease. Plus, dental interventions have health risks.
Did we mention that you’ll look better, too? Invest your time and energy in a healthy smile – it only takes a few minutes each day. We promise you won’t regret it.