A random topic for you today: tooth decay and inflammation. Random but something worth thinking about if you want to maintain good oral health. I hadn’t realised how many things could affect your teeth until I was diagnosed with gum disease which I hadn’t realised is much more likely if you have diabetes, which I do. We should all know a little more about our teeth and how to maintain them as they need to last!
Most of us like to think that we know what causes tooth decay: sugar. But it turns out that the process of tooth decay is a lot more nuanced and complicated than the majority of people know. Yes, sugar and snacks play a role, but they’re only a part of the story. Tooth decay also occurs as a result of systemic inflammation, one of the most underrated issues of long-term oral health issues.
How Inflammation Leads To Tooth Decay
There’s an idea among the public, and even some trained professionals, that tooth decay is the result of sugar attacking the teeth. Sugar, however, is in itself harmless to tooth enamel: the problem comes when bacteria start feeding on it and churning out harmful waste products.
If you’ve ever gone a day without cleaning your teeth, you may have noticed that they start to feel a little grainy or rough on the surface. This graininess is the beginning of the formation of plaque, a thin see-through film of material that builds up the surface of teeth and around the gumline. Plaque slowly damages teeth over time, and in extreme circumstances, can penetrate the tooth enamel, causing a cavity.
It turns out that plaque isn’t sufficient to cause tooth decay and gum disease. Many populations around the world do not have access to modern oral hygiene products, like toothbrushes and toothpaste, and yet they live out their lives quite comfortably, without losing any of their teeth to rot. Why?
It turns out that the type of bacteria that grow in our mouths determine the harmfulness of the plaque that they create. Bacteria that grow in the mouth of a person eating whole plant food are very different from those that grow in the mouth of a person who eats sugary snacks and meat. One eating pattern leads to plaque but no disease, whereas the other leads to both plaque and mouth disease.
If you go to the dentist, you can have plaque removed. Some populations around the world do not have access to any dental procedures at all. The reason they stay in good health is that they are not fostering the growth of bacteria which produce harmful plaques as a by-product of their metabolism. They still have plaque in their mouths, but it doesn’t seem to result in disease.
Inflammation And Plaque
Researchers now suspect that inflammation may play a significant role in the development of periodontal disease and tooth loss. Plaque creates an inflammatory response which damages the periodontal area (the tissue immediately surrounding the teeth). It’s the body’s inflammatory response interacting with damaging bacterial waste products in the plaque which appears to generate disease.
So there you are. It pays to know a little more about tooth decay, its causes and what you can do about it before problems start, and afterwards. With me, my teeth were marked as “3 with the odd 4” which I was told means not far off my adult teeth wobbling or even falling out. With a change to my diet (more wholegrains as opposed to less sugar, I’m mostly sugar-free as it is) and using interdental brushes to get between my teeth and I’ve changed this to mostly 1’s and the odd 2. Success! If you want to know how best to make sure your teeth last, understand how they work!