Tooth decay, cavities or dental caries – Where does it begin and why does it end in a filling, crown, root canal or worse, extraction? As some of you know from my previous article “The Modern Tooth Brusher”, I have a young infant, and sometimes it feels like poop preoccupies a whole lot of the day – so today I am making the science fun and talking in those terms.
Cavities are caused by an interaction of many events. My fun explanation goes as follows: Sugar Bugs (bacteria) eat the food we eat and POOP on our teeth (make acid). The Sugar Bugs’ POOP destroys the hard surface of our teeth leading to holes, which are commonly called CAVITIES.
Sugar bugs are actually pretty picky eaters, but that doesn’t mean only candies will cause cavities. In fact, nearly every carbohydrate (bread, rice, pasta, cookies, crackers, chips, cereals etc.) going into our mouth is broken down by spit (saliva) into simple sugars. These simple sugars are the food bacteria use for energy, and the POOP (waste product) they make is an acid (among other things).
Even before a hole occurs, there are early warning signs of decay. Fuzzy white sticky film (plaque) hides sugar bugs by the millions upon millions. Their mere presence puts us at risk; it is only a matter of time before they leave cavity-forming POOP.
So what’s the big deal if Sugar Bugs are Pooping all over your teeth anyways? Aside from how gross this realization is, that Poop is really harmful stuff. The Poop is a combination of acids, with the primary ingredient being vinegar (acetic acid). Take pause from the dental world and think of the ways we use vinegar – especially cleaning and descaling your kettle or coffee maker.
Try this fun experiment: take an uncooked egg and paint a smiley face on it with clear nail polish. Let it dry completely. Now place it in a cup of vinegar on the counter and leave it there for up to two weeks. Take notes daily. The smiley face is protected from the vinegar.
Acids dissolve minerals, and our teeth are made up of minerals just like the eggshell. The bottom line is if you expose your teeth to acids for long enough, they will break down.
If you scratch off that sticky white stuff from your teeth (a tooth brush works well), you may see hiding under the film a white spot. A WHITE SPOT on a tooth can be the first visible sign of mineral loss. WHITE SPOTS are strong risk factors for developing a cavity, and aggressive risk management should be taking place on a daily basis. Left unmanaged, the Sugar Bugs’ Poop will wash away the hard surface of our teeth and a cavity will develop.
Start managing the sugar bugs daily: be cognizant of what you eat and how often, brush your teeth, floss, use a fluoride toothpaste and visit your dentist regularly for continuing care. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Dr. Daniel Charland BMSc, DDS, Cert Ped. Dent., MS, FRCD(C)
Certified Specialist in Pediatric Dentistry
Burlington Pediatric Dentistry