As children, we were always warned about cavities. But somewhere along the line, we stopped worrying so much. In spite of that (or perhaps because of it), only 60 to 90% of children have cavities, while almost 100% of adults do, according to the World Health Organization. So what can we do to prevent tooth decay?
Knowing the cause is a great first step. Cavities and decay are causes by bacteria, specifically a strain called streptococcus mutans. When s. mutans is present, a cavity is not yet guaranteed. When the pH level in the mouth moves out of its normal range, the bacteria are able to flourish and attack the enamel of the teeth. This shift in the pH can occur when sucrose (sugar) is present in the mouth.
So preventing tooth decay is all about avoiding sugar, right? Certainly that is a great first step. But just as important as what you eat is how you eat it. For example, eating a candy bar all in one sitting is actually better for your mouth than eating a little bit now and a little bit later. Any amount of sugar will change the pH in your mouth, and it takes about twenty minutes for any shift to be neutralized back to your regular pH levels. If the offending sugar is all in one lump, s. mutans has only one twenty minute window in which to grow. Spreading the sugar out into several sessions multiplies the number of twenty minute windows available to the bacteria.
Knowing how to prevent cavities and finding ways to prevent tooth decay are the best way to ensure a healthy happy mouth. But if you simply must have a sugar fix now and then, know the impact it may have on your teeth, and know how to minimize that impact, by minimizing the amount of time you let bacteria have their way in your mouth.