A trip to the dentist is necessary every six months. Photo: Jonathan Borba

How to properly take care of your pearly choppers

By Geraldine Fitzgerald

In a nutshell, brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day.

Brushing breaks down the sticky plaque that has accumulated on your teeth from food and acids secreted by the bacteria that live in your mouth, and flossing wriggles away all the mucky bits out of the spaces between teeth, where food particles hide.

Those are the basics. Electric toothbrushes are even more effective, as they oscillate rapidly and work harder that you can with a manual brush. One of the biggest problems, though, is that plaque sneaks down under the gumline where you simply cannot reach it yourself. It then hardens into tartar, which needs to be removed carefully by a dental hygienist with special tools.

You should see your dental hygienist once every six months - it’s the most intelligent way way to prevent a slew of problems down the road. Ignore tooth trouble at your peril, as it just becomes increasingly painful and seriously expensive to fix!

Wear and tear to your teeth

The bite pressure humans use to rip apart food is very strong indeed. Normal tooth wear will see slow, progressive loss of the tooth’s surface.

However, if the cutting edge of the tooth is damaged by a little fracture, or you notice chipping away of the surface, get thee to a dentist, stat!

Increased tooth wear does happen, sometimes without any specific trauma or decay. It has a lot to do with what you eat and drink, and how you take care of your teeth on a daily basis.

Enamel is the white, shiny surface layer of the tooth. As it starts to wear away as we age, the underlying layer called dentine becomes more exposed. It’s more yellow in colour, and once you understand what causes tooth wear, you’ll be able to slow down its progression.

Erosion of enamel

Acids and chemicals found in fizzy drinks and fruit juices will damage the surface of the tooth. Even plain fizzy water is carbonated, which will erode your enamel.

Fruit juice has high levels of natural sugar, which is why dentists suggest you water it down by 50% for children. Wouldn’t do you any harm to do the same.

You may also be damaging your teeth from the inside. People who suffer with persistent heartburn may have a gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD), where hydrochloric acid that should stay in the stomach makes a painful and unwelcome appearance at the back of the throat.

This digestive acid is very strong; designed to break down stomach contents and will do terrible damage if it comes up the oesophagus into the throat and mouth.

People who suffer from eating disorders such as bulimia bring those acids into their mouth when they purge by throwing up - in fact any time you vomit you should immediately rinse your mouth very thoroughly to wash away the acids that have been brought into contact with your teeth.

Certain medications or chronic conditions can cause ‘dry mouth’, which has a negative impact on your natural saliva flow. Saliva plays a key role in sluicing away acids, so if the saliva flow is poor, it will lead to an unnaturally high acidity level in the mouth that makes your teeth vulnerable to accelerated erosion.

Attrition of enamel

Many of us grind our teeth. At night, when we’re asleep, it’s called bruxism. During the day we clench out of habit and often don’t even realise it until damage to the biting surfaces of teeth become evident. For many, it’s a stress response.

The first method of defence is to get fitted for a night guard, a thin plastic tray that is custom-made for your teeth. You slip it into your mouth as you go to bed, and it will protect your teeth from any further damage as you grind them unconsciously in your sleep.

Daytime clenching needs a more conscious effort to stop; there are several ways to tackle it including mindfulness and certain exercises you can do with your jaw and tongue to stop the clenching habit.

Abrasion of enamel

Abrasion is caused by a repetitive mechanical action that wears away enamel, and incorrect brushing in the main culprit.

People will brush too hard and cause a kind of ‘notch’ where the crown (the whole tooth) and the root of the tooth meet.

The best option is to make an appointment with your dentist and hygienist and get them to show you exactly how you should be brushing for maximum results and minimum damage.

Don’t use your teeth to open bottles, and people with tongue piercings may find their jewellery hits against the teeth when they eat or speak, which can also cause abrasion.

Tips to slow down tooth wear and tear

· Try to eliminate all carbonated drinks.

· Water down fruit juice and avoid brushing your teeth for at least 20 minutes after consuming either carbonated beverages or fruit juice, as the acid softens the enamel and makes it much more vulnerable to damage from brushing.

· Clenching and grinding need immediate intervention; get a night guard; learn stress relief and have damaged teeth bonded to repair damage

· Abrasion can be reduced by adopting a correct tooth brushing technique, so ask advice. Specific toothpastes are designed to help rebuild enamel, too.