Inside of your mouth everyday there is a war going on. Tiny bits of your teeth become casualties to the acidic weapons of your plaque.
If you take good care of your teeth, the tooth structure that is lost can be replaced and your teeth can remain healthy.
If you don’t take care of your teeth, plaque will grow on your teeth and eventually win the battle by forming a cavity.
The Iceberg Analogy
Think of an iceberg sitting in the middle of the ocean. As long as the temperature is right, the iceberg will continue to exist in its regular shape and size. But what happens if the temperature starts to get warmer and the iceberg starts melting? If the temperature gets back to freezing quickly enough, then the ice that began to melt can re-freeze and remain part of the iceberg. If not, it might be lost forever.
A similar phenomenon happens in your mouth. Imagine for a moment that your teeth are made out of ice. When you eat something that the bacteria in your mouth like to eat, such as any food containing sugar, then your teeth start to “melt”. You lose tiny bits of enamel from your teeth. The sugar acts like the sun. If you continue eating it, it will keep eroding your teeth!
Your Mouth Can Get The Temperature Back to Freezing
There are some protective mechanisms in your mouth that attempt to undo the harmful effects of sugary foods. Once you finish eating a sugary food, the saliva in your mouth gets to work trying to repair the damage by washing away the sugar, neutralizing the acid, and rebuilding your teeth. It takes the saliva about twenty minutes to stop the dissolving effects of sugary foods on your teeth. After this point, the saliva lays down a new layer of calcium to restore your tooth enamel to its previous condition. This is like the refreezing of the iceberg.
The problem arises when we eat and drink so much sugar that our teeth can’t keep up. If we continue doing this, our enamel erodes to the point that the mouth cannot recover the tooth structure that was lost. Eventually, this can cause a hole, or cavity, to form. It will have to be filled in by a dentist in order to restore the tooth to its natural shape and size.
Try to Keep Your Teeth Below Freezing Most of the Time
So, does this mean that you just shouldn’t eat? Not at all. Although your teeth will “melt” a little bit every time you eat, as I stated above, your saliva will help to neutralize the melting process and attempt to rebuild the damaged parts.
There are two keys to help you maintain healthy teeth. The first one is to not eat too much sugar in the first place. If you keep your sugar intake low, then you avoid damage to your teeth. So try substituting water for juices or sugary drinks. Try to eat fresh vegetables and other healthy snacks instead of reaching for candy bars or donuts.
The second key to maintain healthy teeth is to not eat too many times per day. As I mentioned, it takes twenty minutes after you have stopped eating just for your saliva to stop the damaging effects of sugary foods – that is twenty minutes before it can even get to work on repairing your teeth! So if you are snacking all day long, you’ll never give your teeth enough time to repair themselves. Aim to eat 2-3 regular meals spaced throughout the day and avoid multiple snacking sessions in between. A snack in between meals is fine, but don’t graze on a bag of Skittles all morning!
Hopefully this metaphor made sense to you. It is both interesting and helpful to know that our bodies have the necessary defenses to prevent serious damage to our teeth – we just have to give them the chance to work and not overwhelm them. If we can limit our sugar intake and eat at regular intervals, we allow our teeth a chance to recover and rebuild to remain healthy and strong.