Beyond Brushing and Flossing: Consider Other Risk Factors for Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is a primary cause of tooth damage and loss, with annual treatment costs in the billions of dollars. It arises mainly from oral bacteria, which proliferates in the absence of effective oral hygiene. There are, however, other risk factors besides poor hygiene that could make you more susceptible to this disease.
Many people, for example, have genetically inherited deeper grooves (fissures) and depressions (pits) than the average tooth anatomy. These may be harder to reach with a toothbrush and can become havens for bacterial plaque. Others may have health conditions that indirectly affect the mouth: bulimia or anorexia, psychological conditions that involve self-induced vomiting, or GERD, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, in which stomach acid could regurgitate into the mouth. These conditions could result in a highly acidic mouth environment.
Some medical and — ironically — dental treatments could also increase your tooth decay risk. Some medications can reduce saliva flow, which inhibits acid neutralization and re-mineralization of enamel. Retainers, braces, bite guards or other dental appliances may also reduce the saliva wash over teeth, and can make brushing and flossing more difficult.
There are also risk factors that result from our lifestyle choices. Eating a lot of foods rich in sugars and other carbohydrates, for example, or acidic beverages like soda, energy or sports drinks contributes to the rise of bacteria in our mouths.
There are ways to reduce the effects of these risk factors. In addition to a daily habit of effective brushing and flossing, you should also include semi-annual cleanings and checkups at our office a part of your routine. If you have genetic, medical or dental issues that are out of your control, we can discuss solutions, such as alternatives to medications or different techniques for cleaning around dental appliances. For lifestyle-related factors, you should consider removing the habit or modifying it: for example, snacking at specific times or drinking acidic beverages only at mealtime.
While tooth decay is a serious, destructive disease, it is highly preventable. Addressing all your risk factors, not just hygiene, will reduce your chances of having it.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”