Alison Lowe explains how we can prevent ourselves falling victim to the most common disease in Western society – dental caries
ASK anybody what they think the most common disease in Western society is and I bet the last thing they’d come up with would be dental caries.
But sadly tooth decay is a very significant problem.
More than 40% of children in the UK have caries in both their baby and adult teeth; in socially deprived communities as many as one in three children under five have had teeth extracted because of decay.
All this would be easy to understand if we were still in the 1970s when babies were weaned on rose hip syrup, which was a recipe for dental disaster.
But with our ever-increasing knowledge of the devastating effect sugar can have on teeth there is really no excuse.
Nonetheless, for many children breakfast still consists of a fizzy drink and jam sandwich – a sad reflection of society’s continuing failure to protect children from the painful and scaring ravages of caries which often results in pain, sepsis and emergency care.
There are lots of preventive measures in place, including information for parents – the Infant and Toddler Forum and the British Dental Health Foundation are working hard to raise awareness about caries and have produced a factsheet providing comprehensive advice on how to care for children’s teeth.
As a nation, we have a very sweet tooth – an average of £1.3bn is spent on sweets and sugary snacks each month.
Having consumed something sweet, bacteria in the mouth produces acid which attacks the tooth’s enamel.
After about 20 minutes the body’s protective mechanism kicks in and saliva neutralises the acid.
The problem with eating sweet things continually is that the teeth are under constant attack.
The only thing that will really prevent decay is not putting sugary things into your mouth in the first place. If you want to avoid the tooth fairy, “sweetie days” are a good idea.
Simply eat your sweets all at once on a specific day of the week.
If you like to sprinkle sugar on your cereal, why not try Xylitol instead? It has the same sweet taste and is considered to be much healthier than many sweeteners.
Asthmatics are nearly three times more at risk of developing dental decay than the rest of the population, maybe because they produce less saliva, which we need to neutralise the plaque acid that eats into enamel.
By maintaining a rigorous dental regime and visiting your dentist regularly, it is possible to have well controlled asthma and healthy teeth.
Fluoridated water is the most cost-effective way of reducing tooth decay.
The adjustment of fluoride levels in the drinking water in Australia, Ireland and the US has been hailed as a public health triumph.
Anti-fluoridation lobbyists argue we shouldn’t add fluoride (which is, of course, a chemical) into our water supplies unnecessarily and the Green Party has said there are “too many significant questions” over the effectiveness and risks of fluoride for it to be considered safe.
The last place in Wales to have fluoridated water was Anglesey – within five years of it being stopped in 1991 there was a 68% rise in tooth decay in children.
In the absence of fluoridated water, there is always toothpaste. The majority on sale in the UK contain fluoride and although it is inevitable that a small amount of toothpaste will be ingested every time we brush, there is no evidence to suggest that this will have a detrimental effect on our health.
In order for toothpaste to be effective you need to brush with it.
Inconsistent brushing is a major cause of tooth decay but a recent survey for Philips Oral Healthcare found many parents are letting their children off brushing simply because they’re too rushed or stressed.