If you’re like me, you love sweets. My friends and family always give me a hard time because I’m a dentist, but I have the biggest sweet tooth of anyone they know. With Halloween around the corner, I think it’s a good time to relay some facts about sweets and tooth decay. It’s okay to eat sweets, but you just have to understand how it affects your dental health. In this post I’m going to break down how your diet can affect your caries risk, or in other words, how prone you are to getting cavities.
There are a lot of factors that can contribute to your susceptibility to get cavities (or as we call it in the “industry”, caries). One of the most important factors, though, is your diet. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about quantity, but more about the frequency that you consume fermentable carbohydrates.
“What is a fermentable carbohydrate?” you may say.
A fermentable carbohydrate is any food that contains sugars that are easily broken down by our bodies’ digestive tracts. A few of these sugars that you might recognize are sucrose, glucose, and fructose. They are also more easily consumed by bacteria. These bacteria (mainly Streptococcus mutans) consume these sugars and produce a byproduct called lactic acid which breaks down the healthy tooth structure and causes tooth decay.
The concept of frequency refers to how often throughout the day you are consuming foods or drinks that contain these fermentable carbohydrates. The reason why frequency plays such a big role in the progression of tooth decay is because your mouth never gets the chance to fully neutralize the acids that are formed from the breakdown of these sugars by the bacteria.
Let me explain how this happens on the scientific level….
Your mouth is naturally neutral (pH of approximately 7). Whenever you consume these carbohydrates, the pH drops down to an acidic level. Over time, the saliva in your mouth neutralizes the acid and brings your mouth back to its normal state. If you’re constantly sipping on that sweet tea, or snacking on Halloween candy throughout the day, your mouth never gets a chance to fully recover back to the neutral state, staying at that acidic level. The bacteria love this environment and thrive in it, leading to increased risk of cavities.
There are several ways we can combat this phenomenon:
So bottom line: diet is a very important (if not the most important) factor that contributes to tooth decay. With that said, Happy Halloween from the team at Hamilton Town Dentistry!