Cavity Prevention and Diet, Part 1

A nice, healthy smile! No cavities!

Have you ever wondered why certain people can't seem to stay out of the dental chair? Some of my patients brush and floss, morning and night, yet they still tend to get cavities. Why is this? Many people will argue that genetics play a role. If your parents have terrible teeth, surely you will too. This is a common misconception that I fight daily to remedy. Although there are some oral diseases that do have a genetic component, decay is not one of them. Do I see decay run in families? Yes, sometimes, but its not related to your genetic makeup.

The main reason families tend to have a similar predisposition to decay is that families often eat the same things. If your mom and dad drink three sodas per day, there is a decent chance you have at least one. If every evening Dad used to sit and eat pretzels for two hours on the couch, you might also have a similar habit. It’s normal right? Well, not really.

Dietary carbohydrates are an incredibly common, and often forgotten about, reason that people develop cavities. Nobody likes to hear it, but you are what you eat. Dental decay is a preventable disease, a disease of the modern diet

All humans have bacteria present in their mouths. It’s normal. We have bacteria everywhere: on our skin, in our intestines, noses and ears. It’s unavoidable. When we consume carbohydrates, whether it be in the form of a hard candy, chocolate bar, bag of pretzels, or glass of orange juice, the bacteria in our mouths consume that sugar and produce acid as waste. The acid, in turn, dissolves the enamel of the teeth until there is a change in the surface. Once a hole has formed through the enamel, it becomes almost impossible for the tooth to heal on its own. This is when dental treatment is needed.

I do not expect my patients to completely change their diets to benefit the health of their teeth. I do, however, ask that they will be open to a discussion about strategies to slow down the damage a diet can cause. I like to think of the strategy as consisting of three parts:

  1. Good choices

  2. Frequency of sugar intake

  3. Daily fluoride and hydration

I will cover more on cavity prevention related to diet, as this is the first in a series of blog posts related to diet and oral health.

Eric Readinger