Sugar Doesn’t Cause Tooth Decay…Acid is the DESTROYER of teeth!

There is a common misperception that sugar is bad for our teeth. The field of dentistry has done an excellent job of promoting the connection between tooth decay and sugary foods but sadly, this is only a small part of the story. Leaving out the details of what really causes tooth decay has left patients with a false sense that certain dietary habits are ‘safe’ for consumption and this can lead to avoidable tooth decay. The real culprit of what destroys our teeth is….ACID! Sugar is the destroyer of our metabolic systems.

What I hope to accomplish in this newsletter is to help you better understand how not to consume certain products that are pervasive in our society. That is to say, I am not telling you to eliminate them from your daily enjoyment but rather modifications in consumption that make you less likely to form cavities. This knowledge will help you know how to make wiser choices when eating, drinking and cleaning your teeth.

D vs R

No….I am not bringing up the politics that has so tragically divided this country. I am talking about a different battle, a battle in your mouth. One that happens ALL DAY, EVERYDAY! That is the battle between demineralization and remineralization. Our teeth are constantly in a state of destruction D (demineralization) and repair R (remineralization). When the balance moves too far along the destructive path, cavities form.

Demineralization of tooth structure occurs when specific bacteria of the oral cavity metabolize the sugars and carbohydrates of the foods we eat. Streptococcus Mutans (S. Mutans) is one of the many types of bacteria that reside in the human oral cavity. We are not born with this bacteria but acquire it over time by kissing others and sharing utensils, cups or straws. S. Mutans will metabolize the carbohydrates and sugars from our diet to lay down the matrix that forms the sticky plaque we recommend you remove by brushing and flossing twice daily. As S Mutans metabolize the sugars from our diet, it also produces organic acids that cause a stripping of the enamel surface integrity. These acids shift the balance towards demineralization or the breakdown of tooth structure that leads to cavities.

S. Mutans not only produces acid, it thrives in an acidic environment. The more this bacteria is allowed to grow and flourish the easier it will be for you to develop decay. Also, the more the oral environment shifts towards acidity, the more we harm the beneficial bacteria that our mouths need to promote good overall health.

But, demineralization also occurs when we sip beverages between meals. Novel to this century is everyone walking around with a reusable cup filled with something we are sipping. Sadly everything from coffee (with or without sugar) and soda (yes even DIET) to sport drinks and flavored waters have a pH value that shifts the oral balance to demineralization. It takes a healthy mouth about 30 minutes to neutralize the acids from eating and drinking. If a beverage is slowly enjoyed over several hours, it is 30 minutes from the last sip until the balance can be shifted back in favor of remineralizing or rebuilding.

So, you may be wondering what helps to neutralize the acids causing tooth decay. Well, it’s quite simple….it’s your saliva (casually known as spit). Saliva has many amazing functions: it neutralizes the acids from our diets, it helps to remineralize or strengthen our teeth, it serves to moisturize our oral tissues, it helps to keep our mouths clean and it aids in the primary stages of digestion. A decrease in saliva can be caused by pharmaceutical medications, aging and mouth breathing.

Believe it or not, brushing after an acidic meal is not advised. It is best to brush and floss about 30 minutes after eating and drinking to wait until the oral environment has reached a neutral pH. The following are some pointers to keep in mind as you fill your YETI, your Stanley or whatever brand is currently popular with another cup of coffee. These are suggestions to help shift the balance in your oral cavity to help prevent cavities. As much as I love caring for and restoring patients’ teeth, the best dental care I can offer you is to prevent you from needing me in the first place.

1. Coffee, soda (diet too), sports drinks and flavored seltzer waters: by no means do you need to eliminate these from your diet but what you need to consider is the amount of time you are enjoying these beverages. We live in a world where everyone is carrying a reusable bottle filled with something. Most beverages, even if non-caloric, have a low pH. When enjoyed slowly over several hours, it leaves the mouth in an acidic state and the enamel is weakened.

  • Try to shorten the amount of time you enjoy your beverages to 30 min or less.
  • Do not rush to brush, as this scrubs the acid into the enamel.
  • Chew some xylitol sugarless gum to encourage salivary production

2. Baking soda solution/mouth rinse: baking soda is one of the great wonders of the world. I am trying to find something it doesn’t do. In a future newsletter I will discuss how we use it in the office every day to make your dental appointment shorter in length. But for now, the focus is on neutralizing the acidity in your mouth and helping to encourage a state of remineralization. The more I learn about the added ingredients of name brand mouthwashes, the more concerned I become of the exposure to ingredients that do not benefit oral health. Some of the beneficial ingredients are so good at killing the bad bacteria that they also wipe out the good and compromise the health of the oral biome. And most are purchased in large plastic bottles…something this world certainly needs less of! Try making your own homemade mouth rinse:

  • 1 cup of distilled water
  • 4 tsps of organic baking soda\
  • Place contents in a glass jar, shake the solution and swish twice daily with 2 Tbsps for at least 60 seconds

3. Intermittent fasting: there is controversy over whether intermittent fasting (IF) can help with weight loss but there is evidence that the fasted state helps to keep the oral cavity in the state of healing by reducing our exposure to acids from our diet. Our prehistoric ancestors did not suffer from the plight of tooth decay. This is in part due to the unprocessed foods they ate. But a contributing factor to their oral health would be their hunter/gatherer lifestyle. They did not have the convenience to eat all day as so many do in our modern environment where food is easily and readily available. REMEMBER: If you practice intermittent fasting keep in mind that some non-caloric beverages can compromise the dental benefits achieved in the fasted state.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve your dental needs. Thank you for allowing me to care for you and your family. My staff and I cannot wait to see you at your next dental appointment. Much gratitude to those of you who take the time to comment and give feedback about the newsletters. I want them to be helpful and enjoyable!

Most Sincerely,