Dental Talk Episode 1: What Causes Cavities
This is episode one of Dental Talks which will be a video series exploring questions you may have about the complicated world of dentistry.
Episode One is about what causes cavities. Cavity formation is a complex issue that contains many variables. However, one big reason people get cavities is also one of the easiest to prevent.
One way cavity formation occurs is when bacteria on your teeth secrete acid. However, the bacteria on your teeth only release lactic acid when they are forced to make energy using the lactate dehydrogenase pathway. This pathway is activated only when there is a high concentration of processed carbs available (note we said concentration here, not volume). It does not occur with proteins and fats.
This means that anytime you eat a lot of sugar or flour, acid is produced on your teeth. If this happens daily, and you never brush it off your teeth, then usually a cavity is formed. The time the flour and sugar spend on your teeth is the most important thing here. If you brush it off your teeth after eating it, the bacteria doesn't have time to create acid.
It is common knowledge that sugar causes cavities - but it's broader than that. It's not sugar specifically that is the issue. Sugar is a processed carb, just like flour. If people would brush and floss their teeth after consuming sugar OR flour then the incidence of cavities would drop significantly.
Hope this helps you save money and stay out of the dental chair.
Will Jones DDS
Sources and Science:
1) Consuming carbohydrates are a requirement to cavities:
2) Bacteria are more virulent if they have more access to simple carbohydrates. Certain oral bacteria are known for being worse cavity-causers. But if you don't supply the bacteria sugar and flour, the micro-flora in your mouth changes and the bad bacteria go away.
3) Diet plays a role as does the type of bacteria in your mouth and brushing your teeth:
4) Whole milk is much less likely to cause cavities than skim or fat free milk. Fat free milk has a much higher concentration of simple carbohydrates than whole milk does.
5) You don't get cavities from eating one sugary or starchy meal. It is the repeated, daily habit of continually coating your teeth with simple carbs that causes an issue:
6) Fruit can cause cavities because of it's high sugar content:
7) Starch is a complex carbohydrate which does not cause a cavity immediately. However, it can eventually cause cavities if it is left on a tooth long enough to be broken down into simple carbohydrates through a salivary protein called amylase. Then, it creates cavities very quickly.
8) A dentist by the name of Dr. Roger Lucas wrote a book that has a lot of this information in it. It's a great read for parents to keep their kids from getting cavities. He compiled a large amount of this research into his book:
9) Simple carbohydrates cause cavities:
10) This study indirectly noted that carbohydrates cause cavities: