This article first appeared in the June 19th, 2014 issue of The Straits Times Mind Your Body. We have reproduced it for the information of those of you who missed it when it was published.
A recent study found that an increasing number of young adults are suffering from oral problems and this could be due to their acidic diet.
Though there is nothing as bad for your teeth as sugar, diets that are high in acidic foods can be damaging as well as the acid wears down tooth enamel, leading to dentine hypersensitivity.
A recent Pan-European study, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, found that more young adults are suffering from tooth wear and dentine hypersensitivity. Those who frequently consume acidic food products, such as soda, had higher levels of tooth wear.
Acid softens the tooth’s protective enamel surface and leaves it vulnerable to further wear from abrasion and attrition, it said.
As the enamel is worn down, the soft, porous layer beneath – the dentine – is exposed, making teeth sensitive to hot or cold foods and drinks.
“I would say that 60 per cent of the people who come to me with gum problems have sensitivity issues,” said Dr Edwin Heng, a periodontist at Specialist Dental Group (Gleneagles), who specialises in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gum disease.
“One key reason is their diet. Young people these days have a more acidic diet.”
Some of the key culprits, which Dr Heng pointed out, include carbonated drinks, alcoholic drinks such as wine, trendy drinks such as citrus bubble tea, and popular dishes such as mee siam or tom yum soup.
Dr See Toh Yoong Liang, a consultant at the prosthodontics unit at the department of restorative dentistry at National Dental Centre Singapore, said: “Acidic drinks and food reduce the pH level in the mouth. When the pH level drops, our oral environment becomes acidic and our teeth are more vulnerable to attacks or demineralisation.”
To protect your teeth, avoid or limit the intake of acidic food. When you do consume them, rinse out your mouth afterwards with water.
“Rinsing with water will neutralise or wash away the acids in the oral cavity,” added Dr See Toh.
It is also best to consume a varied and balanced diet of different food types to reduce the risk of dentine hypersensitivity, he said.
If you have the habit of brushing right after dinner, stop doing so. Acids weaken tooth enamel and leave it more prone to erosion during brushing. Wait about 20 to 30 minutes before brushing your teeth.
“Saliva has the ability to buffer or neutralise weak acids in the mouth. It will gradually clear out the residual acid and lay down new calcium to repair patches of teeth that got dissolved during this time frame,” said Dr See Toh.
When you brush your teeth, do not brush them aggressively.
Some people like to brush very hard, said Dr Heng. “They want to keep their teeth very clean so they will scrub very hard. But that will traumatise the gums. Over time, it will cause the gums to recede.”
Brush gently and spend at least three minutes brushing and flossing your teeth each time.
However, no matter how well you brush, you will still have to visit the dentist for routine check-ups to make sure you do not have any oral problems. Some of them, like early decay, do not display clear symptom in the beginning.
Keeping your pearlies in tip-top condition
1. Use soft bristled toothbrushes:
When buying a toothbrush, choose one with soft bristles.”When you brush your teeth, remember that you are also brushing soft gums,” said Dr Edwin HEng, a periodontist at Specialist Dental Group (Gleneagles).
“If you use something hard against something soft, there will be trauma and the gums will start to recede.”
It is also important to select the appropriate toothbrush size for your mouth to make sure that you can reach all of your teeth easily, said Dr See Toh Yoong Liang, a consultant at the prosthodontics unit at the department of restorative dentistry at National Dental Centre Singapore.
“If the head of the brush is too big, it may be difficult for you to reach the teeth at the back of your mouth.”
A toothbrush with a rubber grip can be easier to hold, he added.
There are also trendy types, such as charcoal toothbrushes, but there is no evidence that they help with halitosis (bad breath), as claimed.
For those who have gum problems or very sensitive teeth, ultrasoft toothbrushes are a good option.
And people with arthritis or poor manual dexterity may find electric toothbrushes useful.
“This group will benefit from using electric toothbrushes as certain varieties that come with oscillating bristles, especially the ones that work in circular motions as well as back and forth, are as effective as manual brushing in removing plaque,” said Dr See Toh.
2. Use three of four toothbrushes a year
Do not stint on toothbrushes. Change them every three or four months, as toothbrush bristles will start to fray over time and will not be as effective in doing its job.
3. Use dental floss
Flossing is the only way to get rid of the plaque from the areas between your teeth. These are the areas that your toothbrush cannot reach.
It is important to remove the plaque as it generates acid that will lead to cavities as well as gum disease.
4. Use a tongue scraper
Whether or not you use a tongue scraper, it is important to clean the tongue.
“This helps to remove bacteria, decaying food debris, fungi and dead cells from the surface of the tongue which also contribute to halitosis,” said Dr See Toh.
You can clean your tongue with the coarse back surface of some toothbrushes or tongue scrapers, though the latter may be a better choice.
Dr See Toh said: “Tongue scrapers have been shown to be more effective than toothbrushes in reducing levels of compounds on the tongue that cause halitosis.”
Apart from hard plastic or stainless steel ones, tongue scrapers with soft bristles are now available in the market.
5. Use the right toothpaste
Choose a low abrasion toothpaste if you have sensitive teeth, a result of dentine exposure.
“There are tiny channels in the dentine that contain nerve endings leading to the pulp,” said Dr See Toh. The pulp of the tooth’s soft core which contains blood vessels and nerves.
“Toothpaste for sensitive teeth work by blocking these channels and stabilising the nerve in the tooth as they seal the dentine surface (a layer below the enamel protecting the dental pulp).”
To see benefits, long-term continuous usage is required, he added.
Source: © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission