Tooth Decay

It is something you don’t often think about until it happens – tooth decay. Dr Rene Nobrega explains how your diet is affecting your teeth in this 11-part series.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay happens when sugar reacts with the bacteria living in dental plaque. This reaction forms acids that attack your teeth and destroy the protective enamel. If this happens often, then your tooth enamel may break down, forming a hole or ‘cavity’ into the dentin (part of the tooth that protects the nerve). Tooth decay damages your teeth and leads to fillings or root canals and even extractions.

What dietary factors cause decay?

While there are a number of dietary causes of tooth decay, one of the biggest misunderstandings is not how much sugar you consume, but how often you have it. For approximately 20 minutes after every sugar snack (liquid or solid), your teeth suffer an ‘attack’, during which time they have to resist a harsh acid environment. If you can limit sugary snacks to mealtimes only, you help ensure that you have plenty of saliva to help wash the sugar and acid away. Snacking at morning and afternoon tea time is not a great idea.

Dr Norbrega recommends after you have a sugary treat, you should have a glass or two of still water. If you have lots of treats, go brush your teeth!

The same rules apply to drinking fruit juices and soft drinks, which are both sugary and acidic.

How do I prevent tooth decay in my children?

Dentists believe that kids who drink too much soda and not enough high-nutrition beverages are more prone to tooth decay. But the danger doesn’t stop here. Too much sugar intake in children appears to lead to serious health problems later in life, such as diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis. Drinking carbonated soft drinks regularly can contribute to the erosion of protective tooth enamel. At its worst, this can lead to a nerve infection, which can later result in the need for a root canal or extraction.

Train your child to rinse their mouth with water after meals at school, leaving their teeth free of sugar and acid. Encourage your kids to drink tap or fountain water instead of bubbly drinks and excessive amounts of juice. Use a straw when drinking soda to keep sugar away from teeth. Remember, bottled juices are not a good alternative due to the high sugar content. Regular dental checkups, combined with brushing with fluoride toothpaste, also will help protect their teeth.

Parents should take their child to the dentist just after the first tooth appears. Brushing teeth after meals, regular flossing and fluoride treatments are the best ways to prevent tooth decay. Children should also be supervised as they brush. A good rule of thumb is that when children can dress themselves and tie their own shoes, then they are ready to brush unsupervised. Children should be supervised in proper flossing techniques until the age of 10.

Top three tips to prevent decay by better managing your diet:

Tip 1 – Show refined sugar the door!

Although most people know that refined sugar is ‘bad’ for your body and teeth, they often find it hard to limit sugar intake. Let’s get real for a minute. You don’t have to give up sugar completely (in fact, you do need some in your diet), but aim to reduce foods like sugary soft drinks, flavoured milk drinks, sweetened juices, candy, chocolate, biscuits and cake. If you reduced just those food items, you will definitely improve your teeth and gum health.

Tip 2 – Sink your teeth into raw fruit, vegetables and whole grains

When you eat high-fibre saliva starts to flow, which helps create mineral defences against tooth decay. Fibre is also important for good digestion, so you’re killing two birds with one stone! Good sources of fibre include fresh fruits, like bananas, apples and oranges. Other options include vegetables like beans, broccoli and peas, along with peanuts, almonds, rice bran, quinoa, flax seeds and chia seeds.

Whole grains provide lots of B vitamins and iron, which help keep your gums healthy. Whole grains give over lots of magnesium, which is an important ingredient to maintain strength in bones and teeth.

Tip 3 – Drink more water

Wait… what? Drinking water can help prevent cavities?

Yes! It’s true. Water not only helps keep your body hydrated, which helps your gums to stay supple and healthy, it also washes away damaging acids and sugars, returning the mouth environment to a more natural pH level.

Buderim Dental Tooth Decay

It’s true – water can actually prevent cavities.

Tip 4 – We like to give you more than we promise!

Don’t forget – you also need to brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day!

Need some advice? Need a check up? Give those teeth the love they need. Contact Dr Nobrega’s office on 07 5456 1144 or email