Some time ago, we posted our magnificent Caries Clock for anyone to use in order to educate themselves and their families about how to avoid getting cavities:
Tooth decay is certainly one of the most common diseases in humans. Worldwide, most children and an estimated ninety percent of adults have experienced tooth decay, or dental caries. This is upwards of 6 billion people.
Some of the effects of dental caries are:
-Soft spots in teeth, loss of softened tooth structure as it breaks off or is removed during repair.
-Infection if the decay progresses into the center of the tooth, the living dental pulp.
-Endondontic (root canal) treatment can eliminate this pain and infection if the tooth is still intact enough to be restorable.
-Esthetic challenges, as many cavities are visible when a person smiles; also gaps show when teeth are lost due to cavities.
-Loss of time from productive work as teeth and possibly infections related to decayes teeth are treated.
-Emotional trauma expecially in children from the treatment of what is by definition a complex and sensitive medical problem.
-Cost. Tremendous cost can be incurred in treating extensive decay and it's all preventable.
We need three things for a cavity to occur in a tooth. We need the person, who has to have teeth, we need simple sugars, and we need a particular germ. Unlike gum disease with its many possible causitive germs, with cavities there are only two main bad guys. There is primarily Streptococcus mutans, and there is Lactobacillus acidophilus who is kind of like Best Supporting Actor here. I know, I know, they should name them something a lot simpler, like Elmo and Big Bird or Hall and Oates. But they don't... Something involving Latin taxonomies and large quantities of micro-brewed beers at scientific conferences.
What happens is actually pretty simple. Any time we ingest simple sugars in either liquid or solid form- any time, any sugar- Herr Mutans, in particular, steals some of it from us. The millions of germs in our mouths (Gack!) grab on to this food like starved football players after practice. The problem is that Strep mutans happens to kick out insane levels of acid waste products when it metabolizes sugars. The next problem is that the more we feed sugar to these little beasties, the more of them there are- giving them just what they want increases their population in the plaque in our mouths. The acid eats into the teeth, both in the grooves on top and on the smooth sides. Cavities result. Then, the more cavities there are, the more Strep mutans there is in all those holes... It's a snowball rolling down hill at that point.
-Keep the plaque in our mouths down to a minimum. Brushing thoroughly, flossing, using Soft Pics if you don't like floss- all keep the numbers down on Strep mutans and for that matter everyone else in there too. Fringe benefit- better breath.
-Fluorides strengthen the enamel against this form of acid attack. Topical fluoride in toothpaste is appropriate for adults whose teeth have already grown. Not all water supplies have fluoride, so for kids with their teeth still forming a careful check is needed to ensure that they are getting the optimal levels.
-Eating with some regard to frequency of carbohydrate intake is important, and is what our Caries Clock is all about. We can snack, we can have our chocolate- we just shouldn't have it too darned often.
Here's a neat graph of the acid curve over time:
Sucrose is a common simple sugar, it's table sugar actually, and pH is a measure of acidity. (Just in case you've protected your psyche by blanking out all memories of high school chemistry class.) As you can see from the graph, your teeth need time to rest after an "acid attack".
And watch out for what really contains carbohydrates. People always seem to be aware of the risk from sodas but not from sports drinks. If it's liquid and tastes really sweet and there's any other ingredient besides sucralose or aspartame in there, it can cause cavities:
So can otherwise healthy foods like raisins and dates and most fruit. These are excellent things to be eating- just don't graze. And try to clean your mouth after you're finished.
The worst thing you can do for your teeth- and your pancreas, for that matter- is to "graze" on refined sugars all day long. Eat, then give your mouth time to rest.
Mr. mutans will be very angry about this, but that's his problem.