Q: I brush my teeth, so why do I still get cavities?

A: I love this question. It’s one I explain over and over to my patients. I find that the process of getting cavities is not well understood by the general public, hence people are unsure how to really prevent cavities. The answer is both simple and complex. There are many factors that contribute to tooth decay including genetics, salivary flow, diet, tooth cleansing, tooth anatomy, etc.

Simply put though, to make a cavity you need to understand that it is caused by bacteria in your mouth. There is one type of bacteria that causes most tooth decay. It is called Streptococcus Mutans. It is passed around though saliva, so most people get the bacteria early in life through their parents. After that, cavities need only two things to develop, sugar and acid. So any “carb” you eat, from candy to crackers to soda pop turns to sugar. This allows the bacteria to do their dirty work. As they eat the sugar they expel acid. This acid  is what eats through your tooth.

A few decades ago in this country researchers did some human experiments that would no longer be allowed in this day and age. The lessons we learned from them are taught to all dental students. They grouped institutionalized children into various groups. One group was only allowed meat, fruits and vegetables at regular mealtimes. Another group was given the same meals, but was given as many caramels as they wanted for dessert. The third group was given the same meals, but they were given their bag of caramels each morning to eat whenever they wanted during the day or night. Who had the most cavities? The group that had access to their caramels anytime had way more cavities than the other two groups. The reason for this is that they had more “acid attacks” during each day. Surprisingly, the group that ate their caramels with their meals did not have many more cavities than the group who had no candy.

The point of this is to explain that it is the frequency of “acid attacks” that caused the cavities. Using this knowledge, it would make sense to limit between meal snacking, or at least make sure it is not sugar or carbs. Cheese is one snack that is “dentist approved”. I know it has cholesterol, but it also contains an enzyme that inhibits tooth decay. This may come as a blow to all those “grazers” out there. If you do snack, it is best to brush and floss afterwards. If that is not possible, rinsing with water or even chewing sugarless gum can lower your risk of cavities.

So now you know why just brushing your teeth every day is not enough to prevent cavities. The more knowledge you have, they better health you can achieve. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at (716) 652-0190 or email me at info@auroradentalcare.com.