Keeping your teeth strong and free of decay depends on a balance between two continually occurring processes, demineralization and remineralization.
Demineralization occurs under acidic conditions, especially when minerals levels are low. Calcium and phosphate end up being leached from the outer surface or enamel of the teeth.
Demineralization occurs naturally to some degree, but there are things that can make it worse – drinking acidic beverages such as sodas and fruit juice, for instance, or eating sugar and other fermentable carbs. Oral pathogens – “bad bugs” – thrive on sugar and, in the process, generate highly acidic metabolic waste. (As they say, what goes in must come out, even for bacteria and other microbes.)
Fortunately, demineralization is counterbalanced by the process of remineralization – restoring the minerals lost through demineralization. Saliva is the natural delivery system for those minerals. Not only does it deliver new calcium and phosphate to your teeth; it neutralizes any acids in your mouth.
And if those minerals aren’t completely replaced? The result is tooth decay, starting with a weakening of the teeth caused by the continual loss of minerals from the tooth’s enamel.
In its early stages, tooth decay can be reversed by pushing the balance back toward remineralization. If this isn’t done, the decay will continue until the enamel of the tooth is breached. The decay them starts to invade the next layer of the tooth, the dentin, and a cavity results.
Once the decay has gone this far, it’s not possible to reverse the process. The cavity will have to be dealt with by a dental professional. (You may be able to stop decay’s progression, but you can’t heal the tooth fully. Once your teeth have developed, you no longer have the cells needed to create more enamel.)
Normally, glass is inert and not recognized by the body. Bioactive glass is different. It’s made up of calcium and phosphate in proportions equivalent to those found in the hydroxyapatite present in bone and teeth. Because of this, bioactive glass can interact with body tissues and is commonly used in bone grafts, scaffolds, and dental implants.
Used in a toothpaste, the bioactive glass easily dissolves to release calcium and phosphate. The released minerals then react with saliva to form a new mineral, which then repairs and strengthens the tooth by replacing the calcium and phosphate lost under acidic conditions.
But while such products can be helpful in supporting your body’s natural ability to remineralize your teeth, you can do the same through stepping up your diet, feeding your body what it needs to do the work it was designed to do. In the case of your teeth, this means making sure you do two things:
Get enough minerals, especially calcium and phosphorous, but trace minerals, too.
Get enough fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
While most folks think “dairy” when they hear “calcium,” there are lots of good non-dairy sources of this mineral, including salmon and sardines, dark leafy greens, almonds, seeds, and more.
Those dark leafy greens, by the way, are also a great source of most of those fat-soluble vitamins – all of them except D, which your body makes itself through exposure to sunlight.
Meanwhile, phosphorous is found in most foods, but foods such as dairy, fish, fowl, beef, lentils, and almonds are especially rich in this nutrient.
At the same time you get all the good stuff into your diet, it’s just as important to cut back on the acids and sugars. For just as you do more of what supports remineralization, you want to cut back on what speeds up the demineralization.
As ever, it does little good to treat a symptom without addressing its cause.
Image by Финитор