Dental caries is the most common chronic disease of early childhood and the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Dental caries (tooth decay) is the result of a specific bacterial infection that impacts the entire mouth. Two bacterial species have been implicated in dental caries, lactobacillus sp. and streptococcus mutans. These bacteria are transmitted in saliva and can be passed from one individual to the next. Recent studies suggest that 75% of these infections occur between the 19 and 24 months age.
Brenda T. Poon, et al. “Dental Caries Disparities in Early Childhood: A Study of Kindergarten Children in British Columbia.” Canadian Journal of Public Health, vol. 106, no. 5, 2015, pp. e308–e314.
Our teeth are constantly being damaged and repaired. Damage occurs as acids in the mouth dissolve the minerals necessary to make up the tooth. We call this process de-mineralization. The process of repair, called re-mineralization, occurs as minerals present in your food and water, tooth paste and mouth rinses, and saliva recombine with your tooth to repair areas damaged by acids. De-mineralization and re-mineralization are in a constant tug of war where anything that shifts the balance in favor of damage will result in dental caries. Once de-mineralization has weakened the structure of the tooth enough, the tooth crumbles in forming a cavity. At this point bacteria may enter the tooth and cause further infection of the tooth.
There are three important influences that effect whether you are at risk of having dental caries:
- Your individual susceptibility, for example:
- Do you have a healthy immune system that can fight s.mutans or lactobacilli? – Did you know that your saliva has antibodies and other proteins that kill bacteria?
- Can your saliva block the actions of acid on tooth structure? – Fact, some people are better able to neutralize acids in our foods and those acids produced by bacteria.
- Medications and overall health – Did you know: that one of the most common side effects to medications is reduced saliva production? Less saliva means more bacteria and more damage from their acids! With increasing age and some diseases, like diabetes and sjogrens syndrome, we also experience decreased saliva production!
- Foods higher in simple carbohydrates are easier for s. mutans to produce acid from! The more frequently you ingest food high in sugar the more damage (de-mineralization).
- The faster foods are removed from the mouth the less chance bacteria have to produce acid. Did you know: at night your body produces less saliva? Less saliva means food is not washed away and leads to prolonged damage to teeth! Remember to brush if you have a bed time snack!
- The right…or wrong stuff! (good vs bad bacteria)
- Everyone has bacteria in the mouth. Some bacteria help contribute to our overall health by killing harmful bacteria.
- S. mutans must be present to develop dental caries. Without this bacteria present, caries are not seen. Something to consider: Although brushing and daily flossing are necessary to promote good oral health they cannot remove 100% of the bacteria around your teeth. Since it takes very few of these bad bacteria to cause cavities, even for the best brushers and flossers this may not be enough to prevent dental caries.