Can you actually reverse tooth decay?

reversible vs. irreversible tooth decay
Whether you're a fan of natural remedies or looking for tips on how to strengthen your teeth and maintain good oral health, it's always a good idea to learn more about how to reverse tooth decay.

As you've probably heard, it's possible to reverse tooth decay, but not always.

Tooth decay evolves, starting by affecting only your teeth surfaces. At this stage, it is possible to stop or even reverse it.

Once a cavity has formed, it will never heal on its own. Read this article to find out when it is possible to reverse tooth decay and how to do it properly.

How does tooth decay start and develop?

Tooth decay is an infectious and multifactorial disease. It develops slowly and gradually, destroying the hard tissues of your teeth (enamel and dentin).

Tooth layers

To understand the process of tooth decay, it is important to understand the anatomy and composition of the tooth. The tooth is an organ made up mainly of minerals.

It has 3 layers: the outermost, called the enamel, followed by the dentin and the pulp, which contains the nerves and blood vessels of the tooth.

Although the tooth is hard and resistant, it has its weaknesses, like all minerals.

the evolution of tooth decay

In contact with acid, the chemical bonds that hold the tooth's minerals together break down, resulting in the dissolution of enamel and dentin.

The acid that dissolves the tooth comes from bacteria after processing the sugars in our food.

Prolonged contact with acid on teeth initially causes reversible surface damage known as Demineralization.
In the presence of risk factors ("sugar-rich" diet, lack of saliva, etc.), demineralization increases, leading to irreversible cavities.

However, demineralization does not necessarily mean cavities. In fact, it happens to us every day.

After a sweet meal, the acidity of the mouth increases and demineralization occurs, during which the teeth lose their minerals.

30 minutes later, the acidity naturally decreases and remineralization occurs. The lost minerals are then rebuilt on the enamel. These minerals can come from saliva, fluoride toothpaste, water and certain foods such as tea, fish, dairy products and some vegetables.

demineralization and remineralization cycle

Cavities occurs when there is an imbalance between the demineralization and remineralization cycles.

For instance, prolonged contact with acid on the teeth, frequent consumption of sugary foods or repeated nibbling increases the acid attack on the teeth and lengthens the demineralization periods.

Is it possible to reverse tooth decay?

Many people believe that the only way to treat a cavity is to go to the dentist for a filling.

However, it has been proven that there are many ways to reverse tooth decay in its early stages.

As long as the lesion is limited to the tooth surface, it may respond positively to preventive measures.

To see if the cavity is reversible, simply stand in front of the mirror and dry your teeth. The areas of demineralization should appear as white or brown spots. You should not feel any pain. The initial decay only affects the enamel, which has no nerves.

At this stage, the lesion is superficial enough to be accessible to remineralizing treatments. These consist of rebuilding the enamel minerals lost during the carious process with calcium, phosphorus, and fluoride preparations.

reversible vs. irreversible tooth decay

However, once a cavity has developed, the damage is irreversible.

At this stage, the bacteria have penetrated deep into the tooth tissue and continue to eat away at the tooth from the inside. Home remedies are not enough to stop them. That's why treatment by a dentist is essential.

How to reverse tooth decay properly?

Are you sure that you're dealing with the initial phases of tooth decay? If you are, there are several things you can do to turn the situation around.

Here are the most effective, clinically proven methods that can help stop or even reverse early decay.

  1. Perfect your Oral Hygiene.
  2. Consider Fluoride.
  3. Other Remineralizing Treatments.
  4. Support your Saliva.
  5. Healthy Diet.

1. Oral hygiene:

Oral hygiene products

The key to regular oral hygiene is effectively breaking down plaque with a thorough toothbrushing technique. Plaque, a soft, sticky white film, is a reservoir for harmful bacteria and blocks minerals from reaching your teeth. That's why removing it should be your priority.

  • Brush your teeth twice a day and do it right: When it comes to effective tooth brushing, technique is everything. Use a soft toothbrush and go gently in small circles for about 2 minutes. One thing to remember – don't brush too hard, as that could wear down your enamel. Imagine massaging your teeth and gums instead of scratching them.

  • Switch to an electric toothbrush: Studies show they're better at removing plaque than regular brushes. And guess what? You don't have to bother with technique, as the toothbrush does most of the work.

  • Wait 30 minutes after eating something sugary or acidic before brushing your teeth: Right after a sweet or acidic meal, teeth are more weak due to demineralization. This short wait will allow your saliva to balance the acids and protect your teeth.

  • Clean the spaces between your teeth: These areas are hard to reach with the toothbrush and can harbor bacteria and food particles. To clean them, use dental floss or an interdental brush once daily, right after brushing.

  • Schedule regular dental checkups with your dentist: These visits will help monitor your tooth progress and allow additional treatments if required. For example, your dentist may recommend a professional cleaning or an in-office fluoride application (fluoride varnish).

2. Fluoride:

Fluoride is known to be the ultimate weapon to prevent dental caries and reverse early damage.

The fluoride that you get from water, your diet, and oral care products works by binding to the enamel and aiding in remineralization.

Plus, it's got antibacterial properties that attack the pesky bacteria known to cause cavities. And that's not all – fluoride also helps prevent them from sticking to your teeth, which means less plaque buildup and healthier teeth and gums.

fluoride effects on our teeth

There are two main ways to get fluoride:

  • Collective Way: Depending on where you live, it can come from sources like tap water, salt, or flour. In the US, about 74% of Americans served by a community water system receive fluoridated water.

  • Personal Use: This involves fluoridated products, mainly toothpastes, or other toothbrushing supplements, like fluoride gels or mouthwash.

While fluoride has its benefits, using too much can harm your teeth and health. Large amounts can be toxic, causing problems for your bones, thyroid, and nerves. So, don't use strong fluoride products unless you check with your dentist first.

3. Remineralizing alternatives and supplements:

White spots on front teeth and remineralization treatment

Recently, many alternatives to fluoride have emerged to help remineralize teeth.

Typically, these products focus on providing our teeth with their natural elements: Calcium and Phosphorus. And the best part? They often come with no risk of toxicity.

These can serve as fluoride-free toothpaste alternatives or as supplements to boost remineralization. For instance, aside from your toothpaste, you can incorporate another product like mouthwash, chewing gum, or gel with remineralizing properties. Several options include:
  • R.O.C.S. Remineralizing Gel: This is a product specifically designed to strengthen teeth, reduce sensitivity, and restore enamel. Enriched with calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, it replenishes teeth with minerals. It also includes xylitol, which has been proven to have anti-cavity properties. Plus, it's fluoride-free, which means you can use it safely.

  • Nano-Hydroxyapatite (n-HAp): N-HAp is the synthetic form of the mineral hydroxyapatite, which is the main component of the tooth enamel. What sets it apart from fluoride is its ability to integrate easily with the tooth structure, repairing tiny defects and strengthening enamel. The best-known way to benefit from its remineralizing properties is through toothpastes and dental gels.
    -Toothpastes with n-HAp: Davids Sensitive toothpaste and Boka Nano Toothpaste.
    -Dental Gel with n-Hap: CariFree Fluoride Free Gel.

  • CCP-ACP (Recaldent): It stands for Casein Phosphopeptide-Amorphous Calcium Phosphate, or simply Recaldent. This compound is derived from milk protein and works by stabilizing calcium and phosphate ions on the tooth surface. You can use it daily alongside your toothpaste to enhance the remineralization process.
    -Products with CCP-ACP: Recaldent chewing gum, GC Tooth Mousse, and MI Paste Gel.

  • Calcium sodium phosphosilicate: Also known as NovaMin, this compound works by releasing calcium and phosphate ions when it comes into contact with saliva. Thus, it helps rebuild the lost minerals and promote remineralization (2).
    -Among the best-known toothpaste to contain Novamin is Sensodyne Repair and Protect Deep Repair.

4. Support Your Saliva for Stronger Teeth:

The role of saliva in maintaining healthy teeth and gums

Think of saliva as our natural mouth cleanser, removing food particles and balancing acidity between meals. It also acts as a mineral carrier, crucial for the tooth remineralization process. So, without healthy saliva production, all other remineralization treatments won't work properly. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Skip Snacking Between Meals: Saliva does most of its work between meals. Avoiding frequent snacking allows it to naturally clean and regenerate your teeth.

  • Consider Xylitol: Xylitol, an artificial sweetener, not only boosts saliva production but also deactivates cavity-causing bacteria and reduces plaque's acid-producing ability. Chewing a sugar-free chewing-gum containing xylitol between meals is a good idea to benefit from its effects.

  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking water keeps your mouth moist, offsets acidity, and prevents dry mouth, which is actually a risk factor for cavities.

5. Mind your Diet:

Diet plays a vital role in reversing tooth decay. One study involving children has shown that improving the diet by reducing cereal consumption and increasing calcium and vitamin D intake significantly decreases the risk of tooth decay.

To promote tooth health:

  • Reduce your sugar intake during the day to lower acidity and cariogenic bacteria and allow your teeth to replenish minerals.

  • Choose a balanced, varied, and natural diet that meets your protein, fat, and carbohydrate needs. Make sure you're including enough vitamins and minerals as well.

  • Incorporate foods beneficial for dental health, like dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

  • Think about including probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. These foods introduce beneficial bacteria that can help balance the oral microbiome, supporting healthier teeth and gums.

  • The last food you eat in a meal greatly influences acidity levels in the next few minutes. So, concluding your meals with tooth-friendly foods can limit the damage to your enamel.

The best foods and nutrients for healthy teeth and gums

Other causes of tooth decay

Keyes' diagram showing that tooth decay results from the interaction of multiple factors, including bacteria, sugars, teeth and time.
Tooth decay is a complex process that involves the interaction of multiple factors.

While it's easy to think of tooth decay as simply a result of poor oral hygiene, there are many other factors at play. For example, the types of bacteria in our mouths, the composition of our saliva, the acidity of our diets, and even our genetic makeup can all influence our risk of developing tooth decay.

Here are some factors that can make you more prone to tooth decay:

  • Diet: A diet high in carbohydrates and low in minerals and vitamins can make teeth more vulnerable to cavities.

  • Saliva: Saliva is important for our teeth and gums. It contains minerals that help with remineralization and balances mouth acidity. Reduced saliva production due to diseases, medications, or smoking can increase the risk of decay.

  • Oral hygiene: Good oral hygiene is essential to prevent cavities and other oral conditions. Failure to brush and floss regularly can cause bacterial plaque to build up, leading to tartar formation and increased decay risk.

  • Developmental defects: Certain anomalies affect the structure and composition of the tooth, making them more fragile and susceptible to decay. These defects are visible as soon as the tooth erupts and may be mistaken for early decay.

  1. Is there evidence for Novamin application in remineralization?: A Systematic review
  2. [Casein phosphopeptide--amorphous calcium phosphate (CPP-ACP) and its effect on dental hard tissues]
  3. Treatment of orthodontic white spot lesions with a remineralizing dentifrice applied by toothbrushing or mouth trays.