The amount of sugar we consume in the U.S. has long been a problem and contributes to serious health problems like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
When we were kids, our parents told us that sugar was bad for our teeth, and for many of us, it’s still the mantra we repeat to our own kids. Research and study after study have confirmed that limiting sweet snacks and sugar-laden beverages—especially soft drinks and fruit juices—is crucial to help prevent cavities.
However, sugars in our mouths are only the first step in the cavity-producing cycle. A lot is going in your mouth, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), caries or cavities are actually caused by bacteria and acids that develop as part of the cycle.
Sugar and the Bacterial Connection
Our mouths have their own ecosystem that scientists refer to as the “human oral microbiome,” consisting of all the microorganisms found on or in the oral cavity. In the microbiome, bacteria are a major player; at any given moment, more than six billion bacteria live in your mouth!
You consume foods and drinks that combine with saliva and bacteria throughout the day and create a film called plaque that clings to your teeth. Bacteria in the plaque metabolize carbohydrates (sugars) in your mouth, and as they do, they produce acid as a byproduct.
Because the presence of acid lowers your mouth’s pH, it demineralizes tooth enamel, temporarily softening it, making it more susceptible to cavities. The bottom line is that sugar starts the process, and the acid produced as a result creates holes in dental enamel and dentin that cause a cavity.
Break the Bacteria-Sugar-Acid Cycle
However, if you neutralize the acid by brushing or rinsing your mouth with water, remineralization occurs and reverses the process. Minerals in your saliva, along with fluoridated toothpaste and water, replace minerals lost during demineralization and help the enamel repair and heal itself after repeated acid attacks.
This process repeatedly occurs throughout the day, weakening tooth enamel and dentin and ultimately causing a cavity. It’s the result of harmful bacteria digesting the sugar in foods and producing acids.
Our dentist in Littleton, CO recommends brushing after meals to remove the plaque and interrupt this cavity-causing process. Be sure to wait about 20-30 minutes after meals to brush; when your teeth are still bathed in acid, the enamel becomes softer, and brushing when your teeth are in this weakened state causes tooth enamel to break down faster.
How to Protect Your Family from Cavities
However, you must pair your at-home efforts with routine exams and teeth cleanings to be most effective. Plaque commonly collects in tight spaces between teeth that your brush can’t reach. If it’s not removed, it mineralizes into a hard substance called tartar that only a trained hygienist can remove tartar using special instruments.
Your Littleton dentist follows the guidelines established by the American Dental Association and recommends dental examinations and teeth cleanings for all patients every six months, including children. This is the ideal frequency for monitoring your oral health and detecting problems like cavities and gum disease before they damage your oral health.
Please Call Us to Learn More
Littleton, CO dentist Dr. Christina Linn, knows that informed patients tend to enjoy better oral health. When you understand how and why cavities develop, you’re in a position to develop habits that support healthy teeth and gums.
At Platte Canyon Dental, we are always happy to answer your questions and show you how you can achieve your healthiest smile. Please call us at (303) 797-2286 to schedule your next appointment for an exam and dental cleaning.