How do you get cavities?
When I was a kid, my dentist taught me that sugar causes cavities. Later in dental school I learned that the process is much more interesting and complex. It turns out that there is a living gluttonous colony of bacteria in your mouth that loves to eat sugar. The more sugar in your mouth, the more the colony thrives. As this colony grows, it produces acid and waste that builds up in the form of plaque. This softens and demineralizes the enamel on your teeth, little by little, until a cavity is formed. Once a cavity starts, the decay will continue no matter how much you brush.
Saliva is your mouth’s natural defense to bacteria and sugars, because it contains minerals that work to protect your teeth and naturally washes some food material and sugars away. In fact having dry mouth promotes decay because there is less saliva to clean and protect your teeth. Of course, you can tip the balance in your favor by brushing and flossing your teeth daily.
But what can you do between brushing?
Avoiding sugar is the best, but it is nearly impossible, as the American processed diet contains so much of it, and even the southerners’ favorite sweet tea has about 1 pound of sugar per gallon. Today, the average American eats more sugar in a week compared to what our ancestors ate in a entire year 200 years ago. (Learn more here)
While cutting back on sugar is always a good idea, it is more important to make sure that your teeth are NOT bathed in sugar during the course of the day. For example; if you drink a bottle of soda slowly over a period of hours, you creating a perfect storm by feeding the colony of bacteria all day long.
Here is a simple trick to help:
Try rinsing your mouth with water soon after eating or drinking anything. Even non-fluorinated water can help wash the sugars away from your teeth, starving the bacteria, and keeping your enamel strong and healthy.
To sum up? Rinse your mouth with water after eating. While an apple a day might keep the doctor away, a glass of water may keep the dentist at bay.
By Dr. Leslie Frese