Remineralizing your teeth is easier than you might think. (Photo: Trunk Archive/Txema Yeste)
It’s the modern-day, return-to-roots paradox: decisions become more complicated the more we veer toward what’s “natural.” This is especially true when it comes to how we take care of our teeth and demineralization.
The enamel on our teeth is made out of calcium phosphate, which are minerals. When you eat or drink flavored beverages, the bacteria in our mouths metabolize what been consumed and makes acids. These acids demineralize the teeth by removing minerals on the enamel.
This process occurs whether drinking a cleansing tea or coffee, eating a natural snack, like blueberries, or gorging on junk food. “That happens every time we eat or drink anything that’s not neutral, [like water] and that’s how cavities are made,” explains Dr. Maria Lopez Howell, an American Dental Association spokesperson and an adjunct clinical professor to the University of Texas Health Science Center Dental School at San Antonio.
This, of course, sounds pretty scary— and enough to make us start sourcing trusted calcium purveyors for our own DIY fix. Online-sourced remineralization remedies include brushing your teeth with a homemade toothpaste that contains calcium, diatomaceous earth and coconut oil (because, what remedy doesn’t these days?), manipulating your diet so it’s strong in minerals and vitamins and weak in particular natural acids, and seeking hard-to-pronounce names of in-office treatments or topical creams. Should we be reconfiguring our healthy diets, yet again?
In order to remineralize the enamel on our teeth and help protect it from cavities, we really need to do one thing: spit. “The minerals in your saliva will allow that remineralization to happen,” says Howell. “It’s got calcium and phosphate in it and some other buffers that will help buffer that acidic state.”
If our mouths produce saliva, then why do we get cavities at all? The answer, in part, is due to the way—and frequency— in which we eat and drink. If while sitting at our desks, we nurse a couple cups of iced-coffee all day, never giving our mouths the chance to return to that neutral state, then we leave our mouths freaking out on acid, so to speak— an intense state that compromises tooth health. “It takes a little over a half hour for your mouth to go from an acidic state after eating or drinking a flavored beverage, to a neutral state, in which the saliva can exercise its healing power,” she says. “If you’re sipping coffee, and you take another sip, then you’re starting at square one again. And this all-day exposure to acidic foods or drink is what leads to cavities.”
Optimally, Howell suggest we take a two-hour break after eating a meal or finishing a drink in order to allow our saliva to remineralize—and strengthen—teeth. If you want to accelerate your mouth’s healing time, the American Dental Association points to studies that show chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can lower instances of tooth decay, since gum chewing allows for more saliva flow.
While our bodies are self-equipped to remineralize teeth, this biological auto-correct isn’t enough to ward off tooth decay and cavities on its own. Maintaining proper dental hygiene, including flossing once a day and brushing twice a day for two-minutes increments is vital, Howell says. Not only does a two-minute brushing allow enough time for each tooth surface to be cleaned, but gives enough time for the mouth to benefit from the fluoride exposure. “If your mouth is in its healing state after eating, and you put fluoride in your mouth, you’re going to end up with a surface that’s harder than the brand-new enamel,” she says. “But it takes a full two minutes. You have to leave the fluoride toothpaste in your mouth for that to happen.” Howell also notes that “even the best hygiene can not overcome a poor diet.” She suggests consuming a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, calcium, and lean protein and scheduling regular cleanings as final components of maintaining proper tooth care.
Bottom line: keep your mouth off acid between meals, take some time with brushing and your teeth will find their way back to their mineral-hardened state—no hand-churned toothpaste or high-maintenance diets required.