Don't Feed the Disease
by Tom Quickstad, DDS
Did you know that as soon as your first baby tooth came in, you caught a disease? It's one that will stay with you the rest of your life and everyone has it.
It's true. The bacteria that causes tooth decay, Streptococcus mutans, only lives on teeth. After your first tooth erupted, the very next contact you had with S. mutans gave you the disease that causes tooth decay.
Now, to back up. How does S. mutans cause tooth decay?
Well, when you eat anything that has sugar in it, S.mutans eats that sugar as well. The metabolic waste from eating the sugar is an acid. This acid is produced at its highest concentration about 20 minutes after you've eaten.
The result of acid on your teeth is an eating away of the enamel. Of course, this is only in minute amounts, especially if the numbers of bacteria on the teeth are small (for example, on a person who is a regular brusher and flosser). But, if the quantity of bacteria is large and the exposure to sugar is frequent, cavities can form rather quickly.
How do we get rid of the disease? Well, we can't, at least not yet. There is no antibiotic we can take to get rid of S. mutans. At this time it's all a matter of controlling the quantity of bacteria with regular brushing and flossing as well as reducing the amount of sugar that the bacteria come in contact with.
So, the first thing you can do to avoid cavities is to floss your teeth thoroughly at least one time per day, preferably right before you go to bed. The second is to brush for at least 2 minutes after each meal. Again, the most important time is after your last meal before you go to bed. This routine will reduce the amount of bacteria that can cause cavities.
The third thing you can do is to reduce the amount of sugar you eat. What has sugar in it? Well, a lot of things do, so you have to become a label reader. Sugar = sugar, honey = sugar, high fructose corn syrup = sugar, chocolate = sugar, milk = sugar, white bread and white rice = sugar. I could go on, but the point is that it's hard to completely eliminate sugar from your diet. Try to avoid simple sugars that you find in candy bars and non-diet pop. Substitute brown rice for white rice. Substitute multi-grain bread for white bread.
The fourth strategy that can help is to reduce the amount of time your teeth are exposed to sugar. When you drink that double tall mocha, don't sip on it for an hour. Drink it down within 10 minutes. This way your teeth will only experience 10 minutes of exposure to acid instead of one hour. Of course brushing after that tall latte would really help, but who really does that?
These are just a few thoughts that I hope will help you and your children make better decisions about sugar in your diet – decisions that will help preserve your smile for a lifetime.
Dr. Quickstad is a general dentist practicing on the Pine Lake Plateau, Issaquah, Washington. His address is 3707 Providence Point Drive SE Suite E, Issaquah, WA. 98029. Phone: 425-391-1331.