It is common knowledge that eating a diet high in refined sugars such as sweets, chocolates, cakes, and sugary drinks can cause plaque build-up and tooth decay. Sugary and acidic fruit and vegetables can also contribute damage your teeth. However, what is less well known is how other factors influence your teeth (often negatively), such as continuous grazing, brushing your teeth after eating, wine, stress and nail biting, leading to the need for various different dental treatments to treat or mitigate the damage in question.
Teeth are made of four different types of tissue called Pulp, Dentin, Enamel and Cementum. The Pulp is the inner bit of teeth and is made up of connective tissue, nerves and red blood vessels which nourish the tooth. The Dentin surrounds the pulp and is a yellow hard material which is covered by Enamel. The role of Enamel is to protect teeth from harmful bacteria and changes in temperature and ph. Cementum holds the teeth in place in the jawbone. It is hard as bone.
Our mouths are kept hydrated by saliva, a substance made of water and enzymes which not only keeps the mouth moist, but also helps you breakdown food, chew, taste and swallow, fights germs in your teeth and prevents bad breath. It also contains proteins and minerals in it that protect against tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva is released from the salivary glands in our cheeks and the bottom of our mouth and is released when you chew or suck.
Does Continuous Grazing Or Snacking On Food Damage Teeth?
Too little and too much saliva can cause tooth damage. Saliva is secreted in response to stimulation of secretory nerves in the salivary glands when you see, smell or desire food or water. Certain foods, such as spicy foods, cause more saliva production than others. Acidic foods also trigger more saliva production than sweeter foods.
Whilst saliva plays a very important role in protecting teeth from decay, it should only be present in the mouth when we eat or drink. Continuous grazing and snacking all day, can cause the saliva to combine with bacteria naturally present in the mouth, and sugars present in the food we eat, and increase the risk of tooth decay. Continuously chewing on chewing gum can also have similar effects.
It is important that to prevent this over saliva production, meals are taken at regular intervals with at least three-hour gaps in between, to maintain blood sugar levels and yet prevent tooth decay. The best routine would be breakfast as soon as you wake up at around 8, a snack at 11, lunch at 1, a snack at 4 and dinner at 7, with gaps in between to allow breaks in saliva stimulation.
How Does Stress Cause Tooth Decay?
Whilst too much saliva is bad, too little saliva can cause a dry mouth which can cause inflammation (swelling) in the gums, mouth, and tongue. As saliva also helps fight tooth decay and gum disease, too little saliva can cause plaque build up and increased risk of cavities. Saliva helps to hydrate food and increase mastication (the breakdown of food) and so a dry mouth can cause food to stick to your teeth. It is also important to remember that eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia can also detrimentally affect teeth
How Does Stress Increase Tooth Decay?
Too little saliva can be caused by stress. In response to a perceived threat, our brains trigger the “flight-and-fight” stress response, whereby our brains prioritize defense from threat (the stressor) over all other bodily function. This includes slowing gastric motility and digestion, reducing the immune system (which defends against disease) and reproductive (reducing libido and sex hormones Oestrogen and Testosterone production) system function, slowing liver and kidney function and neurotransmitter (brain chemical) release. Stress reduces saliva production, which is why you get a try mouth when you are nervous, increasing dental decay.
Instead in stress our brains give us Adrenaline hormone to give our muscles energy to run (the flight part of the fight or fight response) away and increases our appetite for simple refined carbohydrate sugars which give us lots of quick and short-lasting energy. Stress therefore also increases our desire for tooth decaying sugary substances.
Does Nail Biting And Tooth Grinding Cause Tooth Decay?
Nail biting, or finger chewing in response to anxiety or stress or just as a behavioural habit, is something over a third of people do. It can cause tooth decay as, depending on how often you nail bite, it can cause continuous stimulation of the saliva gland and damage to tooth Enamel. If you have lots of vitamin E in your diet, and iron and calcium, hard nails can also chip and damage tooth Dentin and Enamel.
Nail biting can also cause you to grind your teeth. Tooth grinding (also called Bruxism) is another habit, often done at night, which can cause the wearing down of tooth Enamel and tooth decay. It is most common in heavy alcohol or caffeine users or those suffering from anxiety and depression as a form of tension relief. Tooth grinders will often be advised by their dentist to stop nail biting and prescribed a mouthguard for use at night, to prevent dental damage.
Do Acidic Foods Cause Tooth Decay?
Some foods, such as some spicy food, fruit and vegetables, carbonated drinks, and a diet high in salt, are very acidic (they have a PH less than neutral 7) which can cause the erosion of tooth Enamel. Citrus juices such as lemon juice, orange juice and grapefruit juice as well as sodas and sports drinks (especially if carbonated as the fizz increases the acidity) are most acid eroding.
Brushing your teeth after consuming highly acidic foods or beverages, worsens the negative affects on teeth. This is because the acidic weakens the Enamel and then the toothbrush wears down on this. Therefore, a dentist will advise not to eat or drink for at least an hour after consuming food or drink, or two to three hours for acidic meals.
How Can GlobMed Help?
The team at GlobMed are a specialised team of healthcare consultants who realise the need for the right dental advice. We go above and beyond to find our clients the right dental professionals that can help you correct poor dental hygiene and habits and prevent and treat dental decay. We tailor our services to our clients to give them the bright and happy smile they deserve.