Cavities are a well known dental problem that many people will experience at least once in their lifetime. These little holes in your teeth can form for a number of reasons, including inadequate oral hygiene, poor diet, and missing regular check ups with your dentist. Most people know the basics about cavities, but do you know the science behind how they occur? Does all bacteria cause cavities? Does your body naturally try to defend itself? How does the unfortunate process of tooth decay develop?
The Leading Culprit
Not all bacteria cause tooth decay. Actually, most types don’t. But there’s one specific bacterium that does all the nasty work to damage your precious teeth, and that is the Streptococcus Mutans (S. mutans). S. mutans has a couple favorite places to nest, such as the pits and fissures of the teeth’s surface. The bacteria feeds on sucrose present in the sugars you eat, turning it into a sticky polysaccharide that helps them bond to form plaque.
During the process of “digesting” other sugars like glucose, fructose, or lactose, the S. mutans releases lactic acid. This acidic environment, in combination with plaque, weakens and breaks the tooth enamel, causing bacteria to spread and make its way into the roots.
Your Body’s Natural Defense
Of course, the body has its own defense system that works 24/7 to fight back against harmful bacteria. Did you know that without these mechanisms the lifespan of your teeth would be literally days? When you pass your tongue over the surface of your teeth, saliva drags the bacteria before it fully sticks to them. Saliva contains antibodies and chemicals that neutralize, inhibit, and wash away the bacteria that produces acid. Think of it as a constant battle in which bacteria is desperately trying to cling to your teeth, but saliva says, “Not today.”
Another natural defense is the self-restore mechanism of your teeth. This means that teeth can repair themselves to a certain extent over time, slowly but constantly bringing back the minerals that are lost. Calcium and phosphorus are dissolved away when acid levels are high, but they eventually return to remineralize the tooth once acid levels fall again. Keep in mind that the process accelerates if your saliva contains fluoride.
At Baldwinsville Gentle Dentistry, we feel it’s important to educate our patients in the Syracuse area on dental health and how they can take better care of their teeth. If you have questions about your dental health, please call our office to schedule a consultation.