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How I've avoided tooth decay for decades

By David Coory

If only I’d known 60 years ago what I know now, I believe I wouldn’t have a single filling.

When I was 13, back in 1959 I had an after school job at a Four Square shop in a Lower Hutt suburb, delivering groceries to customer’s homes on a special bike with a front carrier.

Each day, after my deliveries, around 6pm, I’d walk to a nearby milk bar and spend some of my earnings, buying myself a milkshake and a Buzz Bar. A Buzz Bar is made of chocolate, caramel and marshmallow, similar to a Pinky bar. After finishing the milkshake I’d ride my bike home to the nearby farm my Dad managed, eating the chewy Buzz Bar as I went.

Happy days – but not when my six month school dental checks came around. There was always at least one filling needed. By the time I left school at 16, everyone of my molars was filled with silver amalgam. In those days, drilling by a dentist was a long, painful, grinding affair with a slow, string operated drill. Pure hell on earth. (What suffering we go through because of our lack of knowledge.)

After I left school, I was free of cavities for a few years, probably because there wasn’t a lot of my molars top surface to decay. I got married at 20 and assumed my dental worries were in the past. Not so. About the age 23 I started working from home and began finishing my lunch every day with two squares of chocolate. In due course the time for my next six monthly dental check rolled round, so off I went, expecting the normal all clear. The dentist probed around with his pointy instrument and began to frown. To my horror he told me I had five new cavities – one in each of my four wisdom teeth and one to the side of an existing filling. The dental work wasn’t quite as traumatic as it was previously, due to the new high speed drill that was used. They still used mercury amalgam as a filler though.

A few days later I pondered the reasons for the sudden change – it could only be the chocolate, nothing else had changed. I’d eaten my usual two pieces of chocolate after lunch that day, then about an hour later, out of curiosity I went and had a look at my teeth in the mirror. I could still see a residue of chocolate in the recesses of my back molars, so I ate a dry piece of bread and checked again and all the residue was gone. The next day I ate an apple after my chocolate and again checked in the mirror. There was no sign of chocolate residue. So for nearly the past 50 years, I’ve always eaten a small piece of dry bread or a piece of fruit after any sticky sweet food, and I haven’t had a cavity since.

Over the years old fillings have failed and been replaced (at huge cost) but no new decay. So I’ve passed my advice onto my children and my grandchildren to never end a meal or snack with a sticky sweet food without immediately eating something to remove the residue, or brushing your teeth. I now pass it onto to you, our customers.

I used to also tell my children that every lolly they eat will cost them a dollar in dentist bills – probably a conservative figure nowadays. It's not hard, brittle lollies that cause tooth decay, but the sticky, toffee, caramel, chocolate type ones that leave the acid-sugar residue in the hollows of our molars – just as my childhood Buzz Bars did.

None of my 16 front teeth ever developed cavities. I put this down to there being no significant crevices to trap sticky, sweet food. I still have all my teeth and have never had a root canal.

Today there are many cases of young children having a mouthful of rotten teeth. The problem appears to be an excess of sugar in their diet, causing an acidic system, acidic saliva, (you can purchase a saliva pH test kit if you have concerns) and also a deficiency of minerals in their diet, especially magnesium, zinc, selenium, molybdenum, and of great importance, vitamin D from sunshine. Fluoride offers little real benefit and only slows down decay due to its unnatural hardening of the enamel. There is much more I could share about teeth (and gums) but space is limited. Our dental health is a good indication of our overall body health.