You probably know that eating or drinking sugar and not brushing and flossing your teeth is how you get cavities, but it might be helpful to understand a little more about how that process actually occurs.
Your mouth, like all parts of your body, has a population of natural bacteria at all times. There are many, many types of bacteria, and the numbers and ratios of each must be kept in balance. These bacteria are simple creatures, and enjoy metabolizing the simplest food of all: Sugar.
If you feed these bacteria, they grow in number. The amount you’re feeding your bacteria can be increased in three ways: Amount, Length and Frequency
Amount: This is where dietary choice comes into play. Sugar, Crackers, Cookies, and Carbohydrates that get stuck in the grooves of your teeth are major offenders, but what you drink is often even worse, because the amount of sugar in soda, juice, coffee and dessert beverages is often super high. The worst dietary choice out there is sugary soda due to the amount of sugar, and the tendency to sip over long periods of time, increasing the frequency of feeding the bacteria.
Frequency: How often you consume the above types of food and drink also increases your bacteria. If you sip a soda, if you’re taking a sip every 30 minutes, the acid level (that bacteria thrive under) in your mouth is the same as if you were to continuously hold the soda in your mouth.
Length: As above, frequency can turn into length, but the other component that affects length is how often you remove the food debri and bacteria from your mouth with brushing and flossing. We recommend you brush 2-3 times per day and floss at least once per day. In some cases greater frequency is required due to underlying conditions. The greatest of these being, dry mouth. The saliva in the mouth works throughout the day to remove (some of) the food debri and bacteria. We find that people with dry mouth (due to radiation or prescription side effects) to have a very difficult time controlling the bacteria, thus the decay in their mouths, because carbohydrates and bacteria simply stay on the teeth longer.
What exactly do bacteria do to make these cavities? I mentioned earlier, that bacteria like acidic environments and thrive in them. This is natural because bacteria MAKE ACID. It is actually the acid that is produced as a waste product when they consume food debri that dissolves the teeth creating cavities. This is why sugar and acid together (soda) is super bad, but also why acid alone (diet soda) is also harmful to teeth.
How can we address these three issues to keep bacteria and cavities at bay? We will look at the three categories and find good choices and habits!
Amount: Choose foods low in sugar and carbohydrates like Meats, Vegetables, Whole Fruits, Whole grains . Cheese and Nuts have been shown to have a negative effect on bacteria, thus a positive effect on teeth!
Frequency: Keep snacking under control, and it’s especially important to choose wisely (cheese, nuts, whole fruits, veggies, beef jerky) when it comes to snack items. If you do drink soda or juice, keep it to mealtimes only, so you’re not prolonging the acid environment.
Length: Brush at least 2 times per day. Brush and Floss last thing before bed, only consuming water after. This gives your teeth the whole night free of acid attack. See your dentist for regular cleanings at least every 6 months. If you do have dry mouth, you might need to work with your dentist on a special plan.