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.
Over time, demineralization increases and leads 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, restoring the teeth. Minerals can come from saliva, fluoride toothpaste, water and certain foods such as tea, fish, dairy products and some vegetables.

demineralization and remineralization cycle

Caries 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.
They 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. Bacteria penetrate deep into the tooth tissue and continue to eat away at the tooth. Oral hygiene alone cannot stop them. That is why treatment by a dentist is essential.

How to reverse tooth decay properly?

There are different ways and measures you can take to reverse the early stage (demineralization) of tooth decay:

1. Oral hygiene:

Oral hygiene is an essential step in reversing tooth decay. It removes bacterial plaque, a soft, whitish, sticky film that is the main cause of tooth decay. It also prevents minerals from building up in the tooth enamel.

  1. Brush your teeth twice a day using the correct method. This means using a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. Don't forget to brush your tongue too!

  2. Wait 30 minutes after eating a sweet or acidic meal before brushing your teeth. This will give your saliva time to neutralize the acids and prevent further damage to your teeth.

  3. Clean the spaces between your teeth using dental floss or an interdental brush. These areas are hard to reach with a regular toothbrush and can harbor bacteria and food particles that lead to decay.

  4. Ask your dentist to recommend a fluoride mouthwash to add to your oral hygiene routine. Fluoride can help reverse early white lesions and protect your teeth against further decay.

  5. Schedule regular dental checkups to monitor the condition of your teeth and track your progress. Your dentist can also provide additional recommendations and treatments if necessary.

2. Fluoride:

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

The fluoride that you get from 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 bacteria from sticking to your teeth, which means less plaque buildup and healthier teeth and gums.

fluoride effects on our teeth

There are two ways to get fluoride:

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

  • Local: This refers to personal use, such as fluoridated toothpaste, gels, mouthwash, or chewing gum.

Despite the benefits of fluoride, excessive use can adversely affect your teeth and health. High doses can lead to toxicity with serious complications for the bones, thyroid, and nervous system. Therefore, it is important not to use fluoride supplements without first consulting your dentist. They will tell you how you can benefit from this mineral without putting yourself at risk.

Are there alternatives to fluoride to remineralize teeth?

Recently, many alternative products to fluoride have emerged to help remineralize teeth. Many of these alternatives focus on providing calcium and phosphorus, which are the natural components of our teeth, to help rebuild and strengthen tooth enamel. And the best part? These alternatives often come with no risk of toxicity. These include:

  • CCP-ACP: It stands for casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate. This compound is derived from milk protein and has been shown to help remineralize tooth enamel by delivering calcium and phosphate to the teeth.
    It works by stabilizing calcium and phosphate ions in a way that makes them more available to the tooth surface, which helps to promote remineralization.
    CCP-ACP is available in several products, such as toothpastes, chewing gums, and mouthrinses. (1)

  • 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*.

3. Diet:

Diet is a key element in reversing tooth decay. A study conducted on children has shown that tooth decay can be cured and improved by diet. (4)

  1. Limit the amount and frequency of sweets to reduce acidity and give your teeth time to rebuild minerals.

  2. Eat a balanced, varied, and natural diet that meets your protein, fat, and carbohydrate needs. Make sure you also get enough vitamins and minerals.

  3. Include foods that are good for dental health, such as dairy products, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and water. Water helps to offset acidity, so make sure you stay well hydrated.

  4. A healthy diet stimulates saliva production and balances the oral microbiome, which limits the effects of harmful bacteria.

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.