What is it that causes toothaches? How did my teeth go bad suddenly when they were fine all these years? Why do my teeth hurt when I eat or drink anything hot or cold? How did I manage to get cavities even though I brush every day? All these and more are questions many of us ask at some point of time or the other. Toothaches are very common, as are the cavities that cause them. Many of us also end up chipping a tooth due to a fall, contact during sports or maybe even a pointless fight in school. The teeth are among the hardest parts of our body, but they are vulnerable to injury and decay.
Enamel and everything else
The hard, outer part of the tooth that appears white in colour is called the enamel. The enamel has high mineral content, which is why it is very hard and brittle. It is also non-living and has no nerve endings or blood flow. So, we do not feel anything on our teeth until the enamel actually decays and the underlying layer is exposed.
The job of the enamel is to aid in the primary functions of the teeth: chewing, biting and tearing. It also protects the underlying living and sensitive layers of the teeth from contact with food and other objects.
Keeping the enamel intact and the teeth healthy requires a proper combination of good oral health and diet.
The bad guys
The biggest enemy of the teeth is sugar. This means that all the sweet stuff like candies, ice-cream, fizzy drinks and fruit juices are villains who will damage your enamel. How? Sugars are broken down right at the mouth because they are an instant source of energy. When sugar breaks down, certain acids are produced. Because the enamel is high in mineral content, it dissolves in acid, causing erosion and decay. These dental caries, or cavities that are created with enamel decay expose the sensitive underlying layers of the teeth. And that is when it hurts.
The mouth also has lots of bacteria. Some of them form a thin coating around the teeth during this sugar break-down process. This coating is called a plaque and it can easily be scraped off with a toothbrush. However, if allowed to remain for a couple of days, they form a brownish coating on the enamel called a tartar. You may have noticed such brown stains especially on the back surface of your teeth. Plaque and tartar not only harm the teeth by causing decay, they can also cause infection of the gums.
What does all this mean? The enamel suffers at the hands of food items with high sugar content and bacteria that constantly seek to attack whatever tissue they can find. Food stuck in between the teeth amplifies this problem, causing the enamel to erode and cavities to form. Cavities are usually irreversible i.e. the enamel cannot be reformed to fill up these cavities. Tartar, too becomes rock hard when it forms and cannot be removed by brushing. The best way to take care of your teeth and keep them healthy is to prevent such problems from occurring.
Clean teeth and good food
Brushing our teeth regularly is very important. Not just because it makes the teeth shine and gives us fresh breath, but also because it literally saves the enamel from daily dangers. It helps to remove plaque and small pieces of food stuck between the teeth that are harbingers of cavities and painful toothaches. The fluoride present in toothpaste enables the minerals in teeth to resist bacterial attack. A dental floss further removes tiny pieces of food that toothbrushes can miss and mouthwash has anti-bacterial properties, all working together to keep the mouth safer. Brush twice regularly and your teeth will remain healthy for a long time.
Avoid food that has very high sugar content, especially if you already have cavities. It is the frequency and not the quantity of sugar ingestion that decides the amount of harm done to your teeth. Hence, chewing on candies throughout the day is more damaging than eating lots of ice-cream in one sitting because the former keeps the mouth acidic for a longer period of time.
Most of our meals contain starch which gets broken down into sugar and so a certain amount of acidity after each meal is inevitable. Rinsing well after each meal and using a toothpick to removes bits and pieces of food stuck in the teeth are good habits that will keep your teeth healthier and cleaner. Fizzy drinks and fruit juices are better drunk with a straw so that they do not come much in contact with your teeth.
Those of us who have developed cavities will have noticed that the teeth do not hurt until the cavity has become pretty deep or unless the teeth come in contact with very hot or cold food and that sends a rush of pain in the underlying part of the tooth. Hence, it is very important to regularly visit a dentist to check for cavities and decay, especially in areas such as the molars and in-between the teeth which are not really visible to us. Dental procedures are available to clean and fill cavities and to remove tartar, preventing further damage to the tooth.
Other things to watch out for
Prolonged acidity, formation of tartar and subsequent bacterial infection can cause harm to the gums, too. Infected gums can cause swelling, bleeding, weak dental roots and a lot of pain, not to mention bad breath. Hence, the importance of proper oral hygiene cannot be stressed upon enough.
As for the teeth, they are vulnerable to injury and hence, proper protection should be used when indulging in activities that put them at risk. The enamel can also be damaged by actions such as grinding and rubbing teeth against each other and hence, one should avoid doing so.
A healthy set of teeth helps in proper chewing and digestion, protects against infection of the various tissues in the mouth and what's more, it also gives you a great smile. The set of teeth adults have is permanent and irreplaceable and hence, we should do what we can to take good care of it.
Note: For more details and guidance please contact your Doctor. This is just for the general information of the readers