July 1, 2013

The Real Cause of Cavities

Filed under: Diet and Exercise,Oral Hygiene — Dr. Polansky @ 9:25 pm

The last time I heard Al’s voice was thirty years ago. He was just a kid pumping gas at the local Exxon station.  He filled my tank on the night before he went on vacation…a drive across country, from Jersey to California.  Somewhere in Nevada he was involved in a head-on collision.  His companion didn’t survive.  Al came back as a paraplegic.

When Al recovered enough he came back in to my practice.  He has been coming in every three months.  He never misses.

I have watched Al grow in manhood.  Through everything, he maintains his sense of humor.  Dental assistants beware.  The one thing I want to tell you about Al that you may find helpful is that Al hasn’t has a cavity in thirty years.  He had more fillings placed before the accident…and they are still holding up.  But that was before he was fed via a tube.

He gets his teeth cleaned regularly because he depends on others for his hygiene.  He is still susceptible to gum disease.  Carol, our hygienist has done a wonderful job maintaining his oral health.  No food has passed his lips in thirty years.

If you’re still wondering about what cause dental decay…it’s the food.  But not all foods.

Some foods are worse for your teeth than others and some are even anticariogenic.

WHAT?  That’s a big word.

Well the scientific name for cavities is actually dental caries.  And it is considered a disease process.  Second only to the common cold in terms of prevalent disorders.

We all know that good oral hygiene can help prevent gum disease but the role of diet can have a greater effect when it comes to tooth decay.

Some foods can actually help prevent tooth decay—hence the word, anticariogenic which describes foods that tend to contribute favorably to dental health by remineralizing teeth and discouraging the acid that causes cavities.

Foods that increase the amount of saliva or help to remineralize teeth can prevent decay.  Examples include:

  1. Foods with fluoride, cocoa (not chocolate), phytate, oxalate and proteins
  2. Xylitol containing gum.  Usually two pieces are recommended.
  3. Cheeses such as Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Swiss due to their calcium level.

Ahh, but man cannot live by cheese and gum alone.

Another category is cariostatic foods which don’t prevent decay but don’t promote it either.  These include proteins, most vegetables, fats and sugarless gum. Non-carbohydrate sweeteners (saccharin, cyclamate and aspartame) are cariostatic.

So what foods should we stay away from or make sure to brush and floss after eating them? The cariogenic variety—they promote decay.

Cariogenic foods contain fermentable carbohydrates that decrease salivary pH and promote dental caries. These can be found in healthy food groups, including the grains, fruit and dairy, as well as products with added sugars. Several factors affect how cariogenic foods may be: the frequency of fermentable-carb consumption; food form (solid vs. liquid); sequence of eating; combinations of foods; and nutrient composition.

The form, solid vs. liquid, greatly affects a food’s cariogenicity, since it often determines enamel exposure time. Liquids rapidly leave the mouth, so there is low adherence to the teeth; solid foods often stick between the teeth, extending adherence.

I can’t advise anyone not to eat—we all need energy and food is our source of energy.  Just note that what you put in your mouth gets broken down—the byproducts can put those holes in your teeth.

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