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If you’re worried about getting a cavity (or you already have one), then you may have found yourself heading down an internet rabbit hole in pursuit of information about preventing or even reversing cavities. During that search, you’re liable to have come across the concept of tooth remineralization.
While the topic of tooth remineralization has started to attract more press coverage, most people don’t have a solid understanding of what it’s really about. So let’s set the record straight.
Before we take a look at understanding tooth remineralization, we need to understand how teeth become demineralized in the first place.
When you break down the word “demineralization,” it becomes easy to see what it’s all about. The term refers to a process by which teeth become de-mineralized—in other words, they lose essential minerals such as calcium and phosphate. This loss typically occurs due to a proliferation of acidic substances in the mouth, which eat away at tooth enamel and the minerals contained in teeth.
Tooth demineralization can happen for a number of reasons, from improper oral hygiene to an unhealthy diet or lifestyle. It’s also just a natural consequence of having bacteria in the mouth, which is unavoidable. When we eat, those bacteria produce acidic substances that promote demineralization.
No matter the cause, the consequences are the same: When important minerals are lost from the teeth and not replaced, it harms your teeth’s enamel. This, in turn, can result in tooth discoloration and/or cavities.
While this is a very simplistic explanation for the process of demineralization, it should provide enough context to understand what tooth remineralization is all about.
As you can probably now guess, tooth remineralization helps combat the demineralization described above by supplying essential minerals and repairing tooth enamel. This helps ensure damage to the enamel doesn’t continually get worse, which (as noted above) can lead to severe decay or other oral health issues.
Remineralization happens naturally in our mouths every day. That’s thanks mainly to our saliva, which serves our oral health in a number of ways: It enables the presence of tooth-strengthening minerals such as calcium and phosphate, it helps wash the teeth clean, and it helps neutralize acids in the mouth. That last part is especially key, because (as noted above) unchecked acids are one of the biggest contributors to tooth demineralization and cavity development.
When teeth are able to remineralize faster than they demineralize, they remain protected from decay. In contrast, when demineralization happens faster than remineralization, a person’s mouth is more prone to oral health issues.
So if remineralization is the good guy and demineralization is the bad guy, how can we encourage the good and discourage the bad? It mainly comes down to supporting our mouth (and especially our saliva) so it can do its thing. Here are a few strategies:
If you suffer from dry mouth, take steps to beat it. Dry mouth reduces the presence of saliva in your mouth, which can tip the scales in favor of demineralization. Fight back by talking to your dentist about strategies for coping with dry mouth.
Eat a healthy diet. A diet that is high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and/or highly acidic foods or drinks (such as soda) will encourage demineralization and may overwhelm the body’s capacities for remineralization. In contrast, a diet that limits these enamel attackers in favor of healthy fats and whole foods is more likely to support a healthy mouth. Aim to consume nutrient-rich foods that are high in vitamins and minerals on a daily basis.
If you do eat something sugary or acidic, rinse after eating. If you can’t refrain from drinking a soda or eating something sugary or acidic every so often, mitigate the damage by rinsing out your mouth soon after consuming these substances. (Don’t brush your teeth, as brushing after consuming something acidic can abrade the tooth’s enamel.)
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is critical for producing adequate amounts of saliva. As we saw above, saliva plays a major role in tooth remineralization—so support it by staying hydrated.
Practice good oral hygiene. It always bears repeating: Sound oral hygiene is one of your best defenses in the face of potential cavities. Brushing twice a day and flossing every day helps ensure your mouth doesn’t get overwhelmed by substances looking to damage your teeth.
Consider remineralizing products. A number of over-the-counter products promise to assist with tooth remineralization. Talk to your dentist to determine which products might be effective.
By taking steps to encourage the remineralization of your teeth, you’ll help protect yourself from tooth decay, sensitivity, and damage and give yourself a greater chance of enjoying good dental health for years to come.
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