the time of year when the sweets start showing up more and more. Halloween is just around the corner. “Trick or treat?” If you are like most, you say “I’ll take the treat!” Can you smell Thanksgiving dinner, or how about those Christmas cookies? It won’t be long. Many people attribute eating sweets to getting cavities in teeth. Have you ever been told not to eat a piece of candy because it will give you cavities and a big honkin’ toothache?
But eating sugary foods is only part of the story. There are other more sinister factors at work causing tooth decay. So, allow me to give you the Dentistry 101 course on dental decay. But first let me give you some little known facts about decay.
Did you know that decay is an infection? And like most infections it is transmissible. Most people are surprised to find out that you can catch it from someone and pass it on to another person. I spoke to a teenage girl who, upon learning that the decay forming bacteria was transmissible, broke up with her boyfriend because he had untreated cavities!
Okay, so you don’t have to break up with the love of your life if they have a dental cavity. Luckily there are some definite ways to treat it and prevent it. Cavities occur for a variety of reasons, but the main tooth killer is a specific decay-causing bacteria. It uses acid and sugar to fuel its murderous journey through your tooth. Once it gets through the hard enamel layer of your tooth it arrives at the soft dentin layer and multiplies as it travels leaving a destroyed decayed path until it reaches the tooth’s nerve. Decay is sneaky. You generally won’t feel the decay until it has reached the nerve. Then…ouch! A root canal and crown will be the only way to save the tooth.
So, what is decay and where does it come from? Decay occurs when your teeth are frequently exposed to foods and drinks that are high in starch, acid, and sugar. These are the ingredients that fuel the decay-causing bacteria. Don’t be fooled. Refined carbohydrates like crackers, white bread, and cereals act like sugar and pose the same problem for your teeth. We all carry the decay-causing bacteria naturally in our mouths, some more than others.
Why some of us carry an over-population of these bacteria even with preventative measures and others of us do not, remains a bit of a mystery. It may be that our body’s defense system may or may not be able to maintain healthy levels. We are able to culture your saliva to see if you are at a high risk for decay. Whatever the case may be, the bacteria mixes with food debris, acid and our own saliva to form that sticky stuff called plaque.
Plaque acts like a protective blanket for the harmful bacteria. Underneath that blanket the insidious bacteria multiply over and over again. If the plaque is not regularly and effectively knocked off the tooth through brushing and flossing, the shielded bacteria release their own acid and create a hole or a cavity.
Once the bacteria has gained access to the soft part of your tooth, no amount of brushing or flossing will stop the bacteria’s destructive journey to the nerve. It must be professionally removed and the hole sealed. The goal of your dentist is to help you keep the level of decay-causing bacteria at below disease levels in order to prevent decay. The frequency and quality of your brushing and flossing play a key role in preventing decay.
Most everything we value requires some degree of care and attention. Regular maintenance is a vital part of ensuring our most important treasures remain secure and long-lasting. The same kind of attention given to our cars, gardens, and marriages, for example, needs to be provided for our teeth as well. It is far easier to maintain healthy smiles through regular dental visits than to maintain smiles after long absences from dental check ups. It is also far less costly to manage dental problems when identified at early stages as opposed to identifying them when they have been present for years. If you treat your teeth like a prized family heirloom, you should be able to keep your teeth for a long, long time!
Dr. Arredondo can be reached at the Bend Family Dentistry or www.bendfamilydentistry.com.