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Know Your Dental Caries Risk

What is dental caries?

Dental caries is a process that involves a balance of mineral loss and replacement in a tooth over a period of time, in response to acid attacks, resulting from bacterial action on food remnants in the oral cavity.

Dental caries is influenced by the frequency and amount of carbohydrates (starches) and sugars we eat. Bacteria in our mouth turn sugars and starches in our food into acid. Almost every time you eat, your teeth will be affected. The good news is that teeth can cope with acid attacks as long as they have time to recover and repair themselves between bouts of eating and drinking.

What may increase your risk of dental caries?

  • Not brushing your teeth before bedtime. During sleep, teeth are especially vulnerable to acid attacks as saliva flow, which repairs tooth damage, slows down. This means any sugar or acid in the mouth will do more harm. So be sure to brush your teeth before bedtime.
  • Eating or drinking sweetened foods and beverages, especially sticky foods, in between meals increases the risk of dental caries.
  • Not getting enough fluoride. Fluoride is a chemical compound that protects teeth against dental caries. It exists naturally in groundwater and foods e.g. tea and fish and is added to community drinking water, toothpastes and mouth rinses. Brushing daily with fluoride toothpaste will help prevent dental caries.
  • Falling asleep with a feeding bottle. If children are allowed to fall asleep with a feeding bottle, the liquid, (whether it be milk, fruit juices or other drinks) will be in contact with the tooth surfaces for a long time. The sugars in these liquids will interact with bacteria to produce acids, and tooth decay will rapidly occur.
  • Using a sweetened pacifier. The use of pacifiers should not be encouraged. Coating the pacifier with honey or syrup is even worse, as these sugars will interact with bacteria in the mouth to cause tooth decay.
  • Decrease in salivary flow. Saliva is important as it assists in the clearance of sticky carbohydrates from the mouth and acts as a buffer to neutralize acids produced by bacteria whenever we eat. However, certain medical conditions, chemotherapy (cancer treatment) or medication e.g. anti-hypertensive medications, can reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth. This increases your risk of developing dental caries.

How can I prevent dental caries?

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Rinse your mouth after meals and snacks.
  • Eat 3 – 5 meals a day, and avoid eating sweet foods in-between meals.
  • Avoid sipping on sweet drinks and carbonated drinks for long periods of time.
  • Avoid keeping sweets in your mouth for long periods of time.

How can you protect your child’s teeth from decay?

  • Clean your baby’s mouth, even if he has no teeth, with a soft, wet towel after every feed.
  • When your child has teeth, start brushing them with soft-bristled, child-size toothbrushes. Children below the age of 6 do not have the dexterity to clean their teeth thoroughly by themselves, so do supervise your child’s brushing.
  • If your child drinks from a feeding bottle, take the bottle away when your child falls asleep.
  • Try to use a cup instead of a bottle for feeding when your baby is 12 months old.
  • Do not introduce your child to a pacifier. Use other methods to keep your child calm and contented.
  • Children’s medicine often comes in syrup form and is usually sweetened. Give your child plain water to drink immediately after serving the medicine.

What can the dentist do to reduce your risk of dental caries?

  • Children who have had dental caries in their primary (milk) teeth are at higher risk of developing dental caries in their permanent teeth. Fissure sealants, a coating placed over the chewing surfaces of permanent molars by your dentist, acts as a caries preventive measure.
  • In certain situations, artificial saliva may be prescribed to counter the effects of ”dry mouth” or reduced salivary flow.
  • A fluoride mouthwash may be prescribed to reduce dental caries in patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Last Reviewed : 23 August 2019
Writer : Dr. Catherine Chen Jean Ai
Reviewer : Dr. Sharol Lail bin Sujak