Sugar and Microbes – The Battle in Our Mouths
What is the cause of tooth decay? Is it sugar? Sugar, and starch, have a lot to do with it, but sugar itself isn’t to blame for tooth decay. The main culprit is microbes that live on our teeth, gums, and tongue. These microbes can be beneficial or harmful. Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus sobrinus, and Lactobacillus are some of the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
As soon as we eat something harmful, tiny microbes start a fierce battle in our mouths. The bacteria use every bit of leftover foods and drinks that contain sugar or starch as ingredients to produce acids that can eat away the tooth’s hardest surface, the enamel.
The enamel that surrounds the tooth is more durable than steel. Disrupting it requires something really powerful. Calcium and phosphorus are being leached out due to the mouth’s pH becoming increasingly acidic. Your mouth’s natural pH level should be about 7, which is neutral. As the pH decreases to 6 and 5, and occasionally even 4, acids have the ability to erode the enamel.
When acid eats away at the enamel of your teeth, it creates small holes, eventually making your teeth sensitive to both hot and cold temperatures. These small holes can grow in size until they become cavities or carries.
You see the wound in your tooth as a dental cavity and the surrounding destructive, sticky, transparent film of microbes as dental plaque. Battling the destruction, beneficial microbes have brought minerals in our saliva, consisting mainly of Calcium and Phosphate. With Fluoride from the toothpaste, water, and other sources, the saliva remineralizes the damaged enamel after each acid attack.
This battle of scraping minerals away and cementing them back to enamel is always happening at any time for as long as the person is alive. A constant acid attack, however, may overburden the ability of saliva to heal the tooth. This means that the frequent eating and drinking of sugar and starch that we all love arms the bacteria to defeat the good guy, saliva. The recovery rate of the enamel will be outrun by the repeated cycles of acid damage done to it, hence causing it to lose minerals.
An early sign of decay may show in the form of a white spot where the mineral is lacking. If action is taken at this point, by supplying enough minerals and Fluoride, the enamel can still repair itself, and the decay can be stopped or even reversed. But if we keep consuming sugar and starch mindlessly, more minerals will be lost, and the decay process will continue beyond repair.
The enamel will be weakened and eventually destroyed, forming a dental cavity. To save the damaged tooth, we require the help of a dentist to fill the hole with materials such as composite resin.
Addicted to Sugar
People in the United States consume more sugar than any other country. Every day, the average American consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar, amounting to around 60 pounds of sugar per person each year. Fortunately, America also has some of the world’s greatest dentists.
That was not always the case. Judging by skeletons from the past, our hunting and gathering relatives didn’t need dentists. The hunter-gatherer’s teeth are just much better; they have full mouths of teeth that are not decayed. Scientists have found this by analyzing hundreds of skeletons dating back thousands of years.
Our diets have shifted dramatically throughout time as people advanced from our hunter-gatherer ancestors through the introduction of agriculture around 10,000 years ago to the high sugar level of today’s fast-food diets many people have.
Sugar is sneaky. It’s found in nearly every packaged product you can purchase. There are more than 50 different deceptive labels for sugar. Here are some of the popular ones you will find in unexpected places:
- Corn Syrup
- Rice Syrup
- Barley Malt
Read the labels on your supermarket purchases to determine your real sugar consumption.
A Plague of Plaque
All foods contribute to the development of plaque on your teeth. Sugar left on your teeth attracts bad bacteria that create plaque. It is this plaque that allows the acid to stay in contact with your teeth. After eating and drinking, food particles remain in your mouth and form this destructive plaque.
Sugar, of all the foods we consume, is the most detrimental to our teeth. Even nutritious meals such as milk, bread, and fruits and vegetables have some natural sugar, but they also include important vitamins and minerals. When consumed in moderation, your body has little difficulty breaking down the natural sugars along with the other food particles on your teeth.
Problems arise when you eat foods high in sugar but low in nutrients. Your body may be unable to fight the bacteria and decay caused by too much sugar if you are malnourished.
Sugar is sugar, whether it’s brown, white, or honey. How often you eat is more important than how much you eat. Sugar produces an acidic environment for several hours after consumption. Continuously drinking or eating sugar every couple of hours bathes your teeth in acid, dissolving tooth enamel.
The first step in cavity prevention and regaining control of your dental health is determining your cavity risk. The only way to determine this is to have a complete dental examination. Regular examinations and discussions conducted by our very own Dr. Shervin Rahimi will help you understand where you stand, which treatments may be necessary, and which modifications in oral hygiene and nutrition may be beneficial.
Once you understand your risk level, we can develop a more targeted, effective strategy for improving your dental health. Another advantage of knowing your cavity risk level is that it will help us decide the frequency of dental appointments. The lower your risk, the fewer dental visits you should require.
At Kyrene Family Dentistry, we continually emphasize the value of routine dental care. Caring for your teeth regularly is one of the most effective methods to keep them healthy and your smile bright and attractive. Our dental treatments, including preventative care, enable you to avoid future cavities, and tooth, gum, and mouth issues by diagnosing dental disorders or illnesses in their earliest stages.
Contact Kyrene Family Dentistry Today!
Chandler, AZ Dentist Dr. Shervin Rahimi, and his compassionate team are here to meet all of your family’s dentistry requirements. Call (480) 771-0546 now to schedule an appointment!