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The holiday season is here, and with it comes the increased tendency of Guyanese to eat and drink more frequently. Additionally, we tend to consume more sugary snacks and beverages. Unfortunately, one common result of these practices is the increased risk of damage to teeth due to decay and cavity formation. This widespread health issue should be of concern to everyone.
Cavities are permanently damaged areas of the hard enamel on the surface of teeth. Such damaged areas develop into tiny openings or holes. These cavities — also called dental caries — can get larger and penetrate deep inside the tooth. If not treated,.a person may suffer horrible toothache, tooth loss, and even infection that may spread and become life threatening.
Cavities are caused by a combination of factors including frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks, and not cleaning the teeth properly. When those factors are combined, bacteria in the mouth feed on the residue of sugars and foods. This gives acid formation which corrodes the tooth-enamel. Making the situation worse is the formation of plaque — a sticky substance that sticks to the surface of the teeth. The bacteria and acids are in that sticky plaque.
In a majority of cases persons are aware of cavities. Symptoms of cavity formation include the following:
- Toothache, spontaneous pain or pain that occurs without any apparent cause
- Tooth sensitivity
- Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot or cold
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth
- Brown, black or white staining on any surface of a tooth
- Pain when you bite down
You should see a dentist if you notice such signs.
Importantly, even if you do not have any of those issues you should have dental checkups because a cavity can form without any signs at all. And to prevent tooth loss, regular checkups would allow a dentist to find early cavities and repair the tooth before it’s too late. Incidentally, preventative dental care is available free of cost in Guyana.
There are many steps we can take to protect our teeth from decay. Dentists recommend the following:
- Brush with fluoride toothpaste after eating or drinking. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and ideally after every meal, using fluoride-containing toothpaste. To clean between your teeth, floss or use an interdental cleaner.
- Rinse your mouth. If your dentist feels you have a high risk of developing cavities, he or she may recommend that you use a mouth rinse with fluoride.
- Visit your dentist regularly. Get professional teeth cleanings and regular oral exams, which can help prevent problems or spot them early. Your dentist can recommend a schedule that’s best for you.
- Drink some tap water. Most public water supplies have added fluoride, which can help reduce tooth decay significantly. If you drink only bottled water that doesn’t contain fluoride, you’ll miss out on fluoride benefits.
- Avoid frequent snacking and sipping. Whenever you eat or drink beverages other than water, you help your mouth bacteria create acids that can destroy tooth enamel. If you snack or drink throughout the day, your teeth are under constant attack.
- Eat tooth-healthy foods. Some foods and beverages are better for your teeth than others. Avoid foods that get stuck in grooves and pits of your teeth for long periods, or brush soon after eating them. However, foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables increase saliva flow, and unsweetened coffee, tea and sugar-free gum help wash away food particles.
- Consider fluoride treatments. Your dentist may recommend periodic fluoride treatments, especially if you aren’t getting enough fluoride through fluoridated drinking water and other sources. He or she may also recommend custom trays that fit over your teeth for application of prescription fluoride if your risk of tooth decay is very high.
As we enjoy the season, Guyanese should keep our teeth in mind. Remember that cavities, toothache, and tooth loss are serious business. And through simple preventative care, such suffering and inconvenience may be easily avoided.