It might surprise most of you to note that Europeans used horsehair, and feathers to brush their teeth in the medieval times. Other substances like bread, ketchup, mayonnaise, alcohol, vinegar, baking soda, salt, twigs, and chalk were used to clean their teeth before the invention of toothpaste.
While these substances only had a few benefits, they were never effective against infection. In fact, to this day, many Indians in rural areas use brick powder to clean their teeth. Using brick powder to brush teeth is not only ineffective, but it can also be counterproductive as brick powder can erode the enamel of teeth and lead to dental decay and dental cavities.
Practices such as these are the reason why Indians have dental cavities in large numbers. To this day, only 50% of Indians use toothbrush and toothpaste for oral hygiene. The rest rely on twigs, charcoal, brick powder and other materials that cannot fight infection. No wonder 78% of adult Indians have dental cavities.
Mind you, this is not something restricted to adults. Dental cavities affect infants, school-going children, adults, and the elderly in high numbers in India. Added to that, Indians are known to visit a dental clinic only when they experience severe toothache.
Do we care about oral health only to find a life partner?
It is not uncommon for young Indian men and women to get teeth alignment procedures, dental implants, teeth whitening, and other cosmetic dental procedures before they enter the bridal market. That one impressive profile photograph with a radiant smile certainly adds to one’s profile on matrimonial websites.
Even before that, the perception of bad breath in toothpaste adverts is also restricted to courtship and the disadvantages of bad breath. To give due credit, this is quite true. Who would want to date a ruffian chewing betel leaves or tobacco? Many surveys show that women and men are turned off by bad breath and poor oral hygiene. Nobody wants a whiff of what you ate 5 hours before!
However, the issue is not just of pair bonding woes. Dental hygiene and oral health have long term consequences. They can affect the overall wellbeing, health, and self-confidence of a person.
Did you know that a pregnant woman with bad oral hygiene is inadvertently passing on bad bacteria to the unborn child through inner bodily fluids?
Did you know that infection-causing bacteria in your mouth can directly affect your lungs and respiratory tract?
For that matter, not many people even know what causes dental cavities! Take a few minutes to read this for a beaming confident smile you never need to hide!
Know how to prevent dental cavities with “getting rid of rid of dental cavities.” But first, a few moments to know what dental cavities are. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way!
What are dental cavities?
A cavity is a hole or a hollow space between two surfaces. In the case of dental cavities, tooth decay causes bacteria to cut through the enamel of the tooth and enter into the inner regions of the tooth causing infection, pain, and ultimately loss of teeth.
Dental cavities are irreversible. They first begin with the demineralization of the enamel of tooth. Then, as the bacterial infection spreads to the inner regions of the tooth, organic substance of the tooth is destroyed beyond repair.
Bacteria that cause dental cavities are known as cariogenic (means that which causes dental caries) which is not to be confused with carcinogenic (that which can cause cancer). These bacteria along with fermentable carbohydrates are known to cause dental cavities.
Dental cavities occur in breastfeeding infants, children, teenagers, adults, and senior citizens. It can also affect pregnant women due to hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.
What causes dental cavities?
Dental cavities are caused due to bacteria and lead to tooth pain, infection, trouble chewing foods, discoloration of the tooth, and formation of pus. If left untreated or improperly managed, it can lead to tooth loss and spread of infection to adjoining teeth.
In our diet, we consume carbohydrates that are converted into sugars in the process of digestion starting from the mouth. Added to this, we also consume a lot of sugary foods, and sticky foods. When bacteria in the mouth interact with fermentable carbohydrates, they release acidic byproducts. These acids act on the enamel of teeth and on the nook and cranny of teeth.
Over a period of time, minerals present on the enamel of teeth erode exposing the inner regions of teeth. This causes dental cavities and infection.
Dental cavities in infants
Toddlers on breastfeeding or formula are susceptible to dental cavities in their baby teeth as early as they start to form teeth. This can have a lasting impact on the formation of their permanent teeth. This happens because of the fact that both breast milk and formula contain sugars in the form of lactose. These sugars tend to interact with oral bacteria and cause dental cavities.
Dental cavities in children
School-going children are most susceptible to have dental cavities because they tend to consume sugary foods. Chocolates, candies, baked products, sodas, fruit juices and ice creams contribute to dental cavities. Moreover, many school-going children in India do not use fluoride-based toothpastes for brushing. Added to this, only a few of them in this age group brush twice a day and floss.
Dental cavities in adults and senior citizens
A very high percentage of adults and the elderly have dental cavities in their permanent teeth due to poor oral hygiene, consuming sugary foods, tea, coffee, smoking, chewing tobacco, disease conditions like hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and of course not visiting a dental clinic for periodical examinations.
As a person ages, issues like wear and tear, use of medications for certain medical conditions, dry mouth, physical changes like recession of gums, and cognitive decline in the elderly are major considerations for lack of oral health maintenance.
Prevention and getting rid of cavities at home
Prevention in infants:
- Parents should check teeth regularly
- Look for white spots or lines as they are early signs of dental decay
- After breastfeeding, and feeding of fruits or fluids, give the toddler some water to drink so that there is pH balance in the mouth
- Also, wipe the gums of the baby with a clean cloth to remove any food particles
- Do not allow the child to sleep with a pacifier or while breastfeeding.
- Ensure that you wipe the child’s gums before sleeping
- Start brushing the child’s teeth with a baby brush and just a pea-sized amount of toothpaste as per the instructions of the dental doctor
- Make sure that you take the child to a dental clinic periodically
Prevention in children
- Make sure they brush twice a day
- Brushing within 20 minutes of consuming food helps a lot
- Fluoride-based toothpastes are recommended for children
- Change toothbrush once every 3 months
- Ensure that children rinse their mouths after eating sugary foods, sodas, and ice creams
- Teach them proper brushing techniques. Holding the brush at a 45-degree angle against the gums gives best results
- Take them to a dental clinic at least once a year
Prevention in adults and elderly
- Quit smoking or chewing tobacco
- Reduce intake of coffee, tea, and other sugary drinks
- Reduce acidic foods
- Examine your teeth daily
- Brush twice a day
- Use antibacterial mouthwash
- Make flossing a daily habit
- If you have diabetes or hypertension, get them to manageable limits
- Make it a habit to rinse after snacking
- Talk to your dentist about dental sealants
Finally, regular checkups with a dentist have many advantages. For children, regular visits to a dental clinic can help them get a good set of natural teeth boosting their self-confidence and health. For adults, maintaining good oral health by regular checkups with dentist can save a lot on future dental procedures. And for older adults, it can improve their quality of life to a great extent.