Dental caries, or tooth decay, is caused by an accumulation of plaque deposits on the teeth. Plaque is a colourless mixture of saliva, food particles and bacteria. The bacteria act on starchy and sugary foods to produce lactic acid, which in turn acts on the surfaces of the teeth. Once the enamel is penetrated, the decaying process eventually leads to toothache.
It is impossible to prevent plaque forming, and the use of plaque disclosing tablets will reveal the amount of plaque present on your teeth. The best prevention is reducing the intake of refined sugars and effective oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing. There is also some evidence that vegetarians suffer less from dental caries than the rest of the population.
Toothbrushes should be replaced every three to four months and should not be too hard. Teeth should preferably be brushed after every meal. If this is not possible, rinse the mouth thoroughly with water. Brushing after breakfast and before going to bed is recommended as a minimum to prevent plaque building up.
Brushing technique involves brushing down on upper teeth and up on lower teeth. Brushing should commence at the gums and move to the outer edges of the teeth. Make sure you brush the backs of both upper and lower teeth. Scrub the teeth thoroughly for three minutes.
Flossing is also an important aspect of dental hygiene. Floss is a thin thread which can be purchased from the chemist either waxed or unwaxed. Flossing enables you to remove food particles which have lodged in areas inaccessible to a toothbrush. The floss should be strung tightly between the index fingers, inserted between the teeth and moved up and down to a point just under the tissue of the gum. Flossing massages the gums and improves circulation.