Up and down, back and forth, to and fro – there are countless examples of how nature works within a pendulum-like swing to maintain balance. Take the ocean tides, for instance. The water consistently goes in and out, keeping a balance. Humans do not have the ability to equalize or modify the tides, but we learn to work within their cycle. The same is true in your mouth. As we eat and drink (especially sugary and acidic compounds) and later brush, our teeth go through a process of demineralization and remineralization. Unlike the tides, however, we can have a significant effect on this process.
Our teeth have a durable coating called enamel. Primarily composed of calcium and phosphate, these elements combine to form a strong crystal lattice that protects the interior of your tooth and enables chewing. On the other side, bacteria in our mouths consume the residues from the food we eat. As they digest their food, they create lactic acid. This acid, reinforced by acidic foods and drinks, wears away the enamel by breaking down the crystal lattices. This process is called demineralization.
The breakdown starts as lesions in tooth enamel. If the process is left unchecked, the lesions get deeper and deeper, creating pits or fissures. Those pits are called cavities, or caries. The longer the acids from foods, drinks, and bacteria are left to work on the enamel, the more demineralization that occurs, and the more damage that is done to your teeth.
Saliva rinses away acids and food debris in our mouths, but it has other ways of helping, too. Within our saliva are components to support oral health, including free calcium and phosphate. When acids create lesions in our teeth, calcium and phosphate is used to rebuild broken-down lattices. This process is called remineralization. In fact, rebuilt enamel sites are often stronger than original enamel. As enamel wears away, saliva helps replenish it, swinging the balance back to the positive.
Interestingly, this remineralization process is bolstered by fluoride. Fluoride acts like a catalyst for remineralization, encouraging the calcium and phosphate to crystalize on the tooth. This is one of the reasons that fluoride is added to mouthwashes, toothpastes, and even drinking water. When fluoride becomes part of the crystal lattice, it adds additional strength to the tooth.
Your Role in the Balance
Due to our eating and drinking habits and other influences, the swing of oral health leans more on the negative side, if left to itself. That’s why brushing for two minutes, twice a day, supplemented by flossing and mouthwash use, is so important. Brushing our teeth removes harmful bacteria, plaque, and acids. Flossing removes possible food sources for bacteria. Mouthwash reinforces your saliva with fluoride or phosphates to restore and replenish your tooth enamel. Granted, once a hole has broken completely through the enamel, there is no fixing it naturally. However, having a good routine in oral hygiene tends to keep that from happening.
The Placerville Dental Group has the skills and experience to identify the best way to keep this natural ebb and flow as far into the positive side for your enamel as possible. Your semi-annual visits to the dentist for a checkup and cleaning serve to clear the mouth of plaque, tartar, and bacteria, giving your teeth a “fighting chance” If you have any difficulties or concerns with your oral health, or would like further information on demineralization or remineralization, please give our office a call, fill out the contact form here on our website, or bring up the subject at your next visit.