Education is what is needed to curb the huge amount of sugar and acid related tooth decay, says Greymouth dentist Dr Garry Rae.

The lead dentist at Garry Rae Dental has been practicing in the area for 40 years and says there is an urgent need to provide more preventative treatment.

Messages such as having a better diet, brushing teeth regularly and having regular check-ups are very important but often they do not reach the people who need them the most, he says.

Garry told Newstalk ZB that while school dental therapists intercept chronically bad situations, what he’s seeing in high school students is concerning.

“A lot of corrosion, a lot of erosion, which is from fizzy drinks, and that is a bit disturbing.”

He likens it to a car washed in salt water.

“If you have a car, and you washed it every day with salt water, it would rust. If you take it to the panel beater and have the rust taken out, but are still washing it every day with salt water…this is what we’re facing.”

Garry says most untreated tooth decay is presented in the mouths of people in their mid-20’s.

“Generally, our dental health is improving but it is shocking that your income and where you live can still determine your dental health. Tooth decay is a disease of poverty,” he says.

Greymouth dentist Dr Garry Rae.

In his experience, he says that overall, adults and children’s teeth are showing a positive response to their exposure to fluoride and good oral hygiene habits, but over the years he has seen that we are being exposed to a lot more acid in our diets.

Garry says the best way to protect your teeth from tooth decay is to avoid excess exposure to acids, like those in carbonated drinks or sodas.

“Sugar used to be the main culprit but now (via the increased pressures of corporate driven media sources) acidic beverages are added on top of sugar laden products.”

“There is an urgent need to provide more preventative treatment, especially for people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds,” he adds.

Garry suggests other measures could help the growing problem with our young people’s oral health.

He says tax should be removed from dental care products, funding should be given to at-risk groups and a sugar tax should be given a chance.

Why is fizzy drink so bad for us?

The acid in sparkling drinks can weaken tooth enamel. Breaking down the enamel increases your risk to tooth decay. Sparkling mineral water has a PH of 3, it is more acidic than wine and vinegar. Lemon juice, smoothies and juices have a PH of 3.4.

Garry says the main culprit in our culture is sipping and snacking. “Everywhere you look, you see people sipping smoothies, coffee, juices and fizzy drinks,” he says.

“Every time you consume something acidic, it takes three hours to recover from it,” he adds.

And let’s not forget, when you eat something sticky or sugary, little acid attacks start to strip the enamel of vital minerals.

Unhealthy promotion, health warnings and legal requirements

Our daily exposure to consume has been magnified over the years by the introduction of the digital world. Sporting stars are being paid handsomely to promote unhealthy and destructive products.  Who is promoting drinking water out of the tap? It’s cheap, free and a healthy choice of beverage,” says Garry.

He would like to see legal requirements imposed on supermarkets and corporate driven companies to put health warnings on the products that they are sponsoring and pushing, that everyone knows is bad for your health.

Tips for a healthier mouth

Garry says education is the absolute key when it comes to oral health.

“Education is needed so that families are made aware of proper nutrition and care for their children’s teeth,” he says.

He says this is important even before the first teeth erupt through the gums. He adds that families must be resourced with the kind of incomes they need to sustain healthy lifestyles.

Other tips he suggests for a healthier mouth include:

  • Don’t let acid drinks linger in your mouth.
  • Drink acidic drinks through a straw.
  • After consuming something acidic, rinsing mouth with water helps neutralise PH.
  • After eating/drinking something acidic wait for at least 1 hour before brushing as enamel remains soft for a while after acid exposure.
  • The frequency of acid exposure is more significant than the amount of acid food/drinks consumed, if you drink a carbonated drink don’t sip it over a prolonged period of time.
  • Ask your dentist or dental hygienist about various products and services to treat acid erosion.
  • Give your teeth a 3-4-hour break between meals.
  • Avoid frequent snacks.
  • Finish your meal with crunchy vegies, these stimulate saliva.
  • Chew some sugar free gum for 10 minutes.
  • When you finish brushing, spit out toothpaste but do not rinse.
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