As a Dentist, I know better than anyone that reading about tooth decay can be extremely boring. So instead of writing about “tooth decay,” I am instead going to tell you the story of “The Enamel Bandits,” a most fearsome band of sugary food pirates that roam the countrysides of your mouth.
Believe me when I say that understanding how cavities work can save your teeth (and subsequently your wallet) so please bear with me and I will try and make this sordid tale as fun and informative as possible.
Now if you don’t care to know the why and the how behind tooth decay, or if you simply find the idea of Enamel Bandits frightening, you can find a nice short-list of pointers for everyday cavity prevention in this post here.
But I invite the rest of you to read the tale of the treacherous Enamel Bandits so you can always be conscious and aware of how to best take care of your oral health.
The Biology Behind The Enamel Bandits and Tooth Decay
The species that takes the majority of the blame is Streptococcus Mutans but these bacteria do need help from other accomplice bacteria to rob us of our tooth enamel. For the sake of this blog post, we will just call them “The Enamel Bandits”. So basically Plaque + Time + Enamel Bandits = Cavities.
Solving the plaque and time part is pretty straight forward: good oral hygiene is our best defense against tooth decay. We need to floss and brush our teeth but not just like wham bam done. That won’t get it done. We’re talking brushing for two minutes, two times a day using The Bass Method.
What is the Bass Method You Ask?
Check out this vid for a little tutorial on The Bass Method of tooth brushing. It’s only about a minute long and it’s a very simple method, but it creates a very big difference in the effect brushing your teeth has on getting rid of plaque.
We also need to have regular dental visits for cleaning and exams to clean up all the leftovers the tooth brush leaves behind. If you’re in the Redlands area, you can make an appointment with us here!
So now that we solved that problem, what about these pesky Enamel Bandits?
The Enamel Bandits and their Quest for Sugary Food
It’s important to realize that the majority of us have these specific bacteria in our mouths all of the time and unfortunately there is no getting rid of them. What we can do however is control their population and by doing so greatly reducing the risk of tooth decay. So how do we prevent or decrease this overpopulation of Enamel Bandits floating around our mouth?
First we need to feed them less. And when I say feed them less, I don’t mean drinking a small soda instead of a large one. These enamel bandits are tiny and so they only need a few molecules of sugary carby food to get their fix so what I actually mean by less is less often. If we limit how frequently we eat sugary/carby foods we can drastically decrease the Enamel Bandit population.
Now of course we gotta eat sometimes so what we need to do is limit the snacking in between meals. If we can stick to high protein snacks for non-meal times (nuts, cheese, veggies, meat) and save the sweets and sodas for meal times this will have a huge impact on Enamel Bandit population. Frequency is the key to the issue (not volume) so if we can keep the sweets and high carb foods to meal times then we are only feeding the Enamel Bandits three times a day and they need more meal times to really thrive.
When we eat sugary/carby foods these Enamel Bandits release acids to break down those sugars for their food and the acids contribute to loss of enamel and tooth decay. Next time you eat a snack and it has been a while since you introduced food into the mouth, pay attention to the slight burning sensation, this is the acid released and you have just given the enamel bandits their fix.
Our natural defense mechanism against the Enamel Bandits and their acids is our saliva. Saliva helps buffer the pH of our mouths to a less acidic state and takes time in order to do so. Every time we eat the acidity in our mouth goes up and causes loss of enamel mineral however if enough time is given for the saliva to buffer the pH than that free enamel mineral will reform back to the teeth.
This is why we DO NOT want to brush our teeth right after eating, very common misconception. Brushing right after eating eliminates some of the free mineral before it has the chance to reform to the teeth so wait about 30-60 minutes after eating before brushing. Also eating frequently keeps this pH acidic and therefore you will always be in a state of demineralization.
Things We Can Do to Help our Saliva Do Its Job
Drink lots of water, staying hydrated helps the salivary glands produce enough saliva. Chewing sugar free gum after eating helps stimulate more saliva flow and also if we chew Xylitol containing gum we are helping out even more. Xylitol is a natural sweetener that cannot be broken down by the bacteria that cause cavities and also if enough Xylitol is being introduced regularly it can prevent these bacteria from even sticking to our teeth.
Xerostomia or dry mouth is another big contributor to tooth decay and can be caused by medications, dehydration, mouth breathing, diet, various medical conditions and cancer treatments. If you experience dry mouth it is extremely important to consult with your dentist to discuss ways of management. Dry mouth alone will not cause cavities but it does greatly increase the risk and accelerates the rate of tooth decay.
Fluoride is another tool we have to protect against tooth decay, basically fluoride becomes part of the enamel matrix and makes it more stable and therefore will not demineralize as easily when bacterial acids are introduced. The fluoride in our water and toothpaste is usually sufficient for adult who are low risk for tooth decay. Children with developing teeth and adults with cavity issues will benefit from fluoride rinses done at cleaning appointments.