Tooth demineralization happens when the tooth’s enamel wears away. It happens naturally as people age, but there are things that we do that can speed up the cruel side of nature. Things like smoking, eating sugary foods, and poor oral hygiene all deteriorate our teeth’ enamel.
As a Tufts University expert explains, once we lose tooth enamel, it doesn’t “grow back.” We can, however, protect areas where the enamel has been weakened and “remineralize” the teeth. Remineralization is the process of strengthening the teeth to protect them.
Remineralization can be done by brushing or rinsing with oral care products that prevent tooth decay and contain minerals that bond to your tooth enamel. It is not a one-and-done procedure; it’s a process that should become part of everyone’s regular dental care routine.
How Do You Know If Your Teeth Have Demineralized?
Signs of demineralization include increased sensitivity and discoloration, but a visit to your dentist will confirm. In severe cases of tooth enamel loss, your dentist might recommend bonding or crowns, even if you haven’t had a cavity yet. These preventive measures will protect the teeth from decay and bacteria.
Who Needs Remineralization?
As we age, our teeth get worn down, especially if we don’t practice good oral care. People who don’t go for regular dental visits and who do not brush and floss regularly are more likely to experience demineralization of their teeth. Here’s how you can floss your teeth correctly.
Also, some medical conditions, like diabetes, can put people at more risk for tooth decay and demineralized teeth. Anyone who suffers from chronic dry mouth, either because of poor health or a side effect of a medication, is also at risk for demineralization.
Dry mouth is one of the leading causes of demineralized teeth. The reason is that our saliva naturally remineralizes our teeth because it contains phosphate and calcium, two minerals that are very important to teeth and bone structure. If you find that you suffer from dry mouth, talk to your primary care physician and your dentist. Sometimes a change in medication can solve the problem; other times, your doctor might prescribe gums or lozenges for dry mouth.
People who’ve had radiation treatments for conditions such as cancer, especially to areas above the shoulders, should talk to their dentists about demineralization. Smokers and tobacco chewers should talk to their dentists about repairing damages caused by long-term tobacco use.
How Can You Remineralize Your Teeth?
The first defense against demineralization is to figure out what you’re doing to break down your teeth’ defenses. Identify what you are contributing to the erosion of your teeth’ enamel. This might include:
- Quitting tobacco
- Cutting sugar from your diet
- Consuming fruit and juices in moderation
- Reducing starchy foods
- Giving up chewing gum (or changing to sugar-free)
- Giving up or reducing dairy
Identifying the causes of your teeth’ demineralization goes hand in hand with excellent oral care practices. While you can take steps to prevent further demineralization, there are things you can do at the same time to remineralize your smile.
Fluoride is the best defense against tooth decay, and we get it internally by drinking water and externally by using oral care products. Fluoride does three important things: It prevents mineral loss, replaces lost minerals, and fights bacteria (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research).
- Drink fluoridated water. Most community water supplies in the United States contain fluoride. If your home and/or workplace use a water filter, if your home has a well, or if you drink bottled water, chances are you might not be consuming enough fluoride.
- Use fluoride toothpaste. If you use a pea-sized dose of toothpaste twice daily you should get the basic daily recommended amount of fluoride.
- Add a mouth rinse that prevents tooth decay. This is especially important if you do not have access to a community water system that adds fluoride, or if you drink a lot of bottled water. Use once daily or as recommended by your dentist.
- Get fluoride treatments from your dentist. Fluoride treatments are no longer just for kids. The American Dental Association recommends that adolescents and adults of all ages talk to their dentists about professional fluoride treatments. These typically cost $10 to $30, take only a few minutes, and add an extra layer of protection.
The bottom line is that tooth demineralization happens to almost everyone to varying degrees. The better your oral care hygiene, the less loss you’ll experience and the stronger your teeth will be.