It is debatable what the biggest factor in getting cavities in teeth is. It is a multi-factorial problem, without a clear leading factor. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, tooth decay is essentially an equilibrium reaction. On one side, there are factors which “add fuel” to the fire, and on the other side we can “pour water” to put the fire out. By controlling both sides of the fire of tooth decay, we can stop new holes forming, and even harden up soft areas.
To me, what food we eat and what we drink would probably be the leading factor. Ultimately, what we put into our mouths is what feeds the bacteria, which then produce acids as they breakdown carbohydrates, and this acid is what softens the tooth surface, which leads to holes (cavities). Using the fire analogy, if there is no fuel for the fire, there is no fire. Similarly, if there is no food source for bacteria that cause holes, then there will never be a cavity.
Now I’m the first to encourage people to enjoy what they eat and drink. I love trying new flavor and foods, eating out occasionally. Now and then I try to create a culinary masterpiece in my kitchen, which may or may not work out, but that is part of the fun! After all, why have great teeth but never enjoy the panorama of flavors in our world? There is a degree of balance to this however, as if a hole is present which causes you pain with every mouthful, a favorite dish can become a painful chore.
When it comes to what causes holes, complex carbohydrates (sugars) and acids are the biggest culprits. Fizzy drinks provide the worst of both aspects, with very strong acids softening the tooth surface first, and providing a perfect source of sugar to feed the bacteria, which equals holes that grow big and fast. This does not mean that all sugars and acids have to be eliminated from your diet, but rather you have to be smart about it. In teeth terms, how often you have something sweet is more of a factor than how much you have. For example, if you have a 200g block of chocolate and down it in 30 minutes, and have no chocolate the rest of the week, it does far less damage to your teeth than having a square of chocolate 3 times a day every day. Frequent, small intakes of sugar provide a regular source of food for decay-producing bacteria, and is much more likely to cause a cavity than a larger but rarer snack. Obviously, there are other health implications for binging on chocolate, but that is not my area of expertise!
So a few simple principles for enjoying a sweet tooth (as I have one of those..):
- Try and keep sugars and acids to meal times, so decay-causing bacteria is not being fed and encouraged throughout the day.
- For sugars, it is especially important to clean afterward. Carrot cake with cream cheese icing will do minimal damage to your teeth if it is all cleaned off straightaway.
- The last clean of the day is critical, as sugar or acid left on your teeth overnight remains for hours, at a time when your saliva flow (and protection) is at its lowest.
I’ve given principles, as each person has a different mix of factors which provides their unique risk for getting holes (caries risk). Likewise, the frequency of sugars and acids which someone can take without causing decay is also different. Come and talk to us about it, or with your dental professional, to work out a plan which allows you to enjoy your eating and drinking, without the pain (and cost) of getting holes.
The information in these blog posts is based on the education, experience and opinion of our dentists, and applies generally to most people. You should always talk to your personal dentist for specific advice, especially in regards to any medical condition.
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