Sweet tooth demise
After starting dental school, and studying preventative dentistry, I realized that my understanding of cavities was entirely wrong. I didn’t truly know what caused them.
What I knew:
Don’t eat sugar
Don’t suck on lemons and limes all day
Soda and teeth don’t get along
I’ve been studying microorganisms and disease in some form or fashion for 8 years and I was still a little confused as to why whis was. Now, the actual science behind this is way too complex to dive into, but hey we can simplify! Luckily all the above were correct… but why?
Here’s the scoop!
Don’t suck on lemons and limes all day
Soda and teeth don’t get along
I originally thought cavities were bacteria eating away the tooth structure… that’s not entirely true.
But let’s first start calling it the right disease- the word the general public uses to call this disease is “cavities” but in reality it is called Caries, and caries are not due to bacteria eating teeth, it’s due to the acid excrement bacteria produce when fed the right foods, in addition to your personal consumption of acidic foods.
You see, there are hundreds of bacteria in your oral cavity, but a select few of them are sugar lovers and acid producers. They all congregate in the cavity, and live on a sticky, microscopic layer that forms on the outer tooth and there’s no getting rid of them. The select few are normally not dangerous, until you feed them. What do they love? Sugar.
Sugar is the kryptonite of teeth when you feed these bacteria.
They rapidly devour sugar, and like any other living organism, deposit wastes where they lie… only this waste is acid and is very detrimental.
If you know anything about the pH scale, our mouth pH is rather neutral. Tooth structural integrity is well here, and in a neutral environment the hard structures of the tooth are safe. When you drop the pH (become more acidic) your enamel begins to break down. So the more acid you introduce into the oral cavity, and the more sugar you feed to the acid producing bacteria, the worse your oral environment has become for tooth integrity maintenance. When you lose structural integrity, you form caries.
In a way you cannot keep your mouth in a neutral zone at all times, because there is some fluctuation by normal eating/drinking patterns in general. All foods change pH in some way. The trick is allowing your mouth to balance itself back into a neutral zone as often as possible.
Now that you know a little more about how caries manifest, how can you avoid them?
Eating a balanced diet, at balance times, and keeping the oral cavity balanced as well.
Key tips and tricks for optimal oral health:
If you consume sugar, do it with a meal.
In other words, don’t snack on candy and treats all day and allow the sugar to continuously feed the bacteria. Pair your treat with a meal so that there is a longer duration of rest in the oral cavity, and a less aggressive drop in pH.
Also think about the type and texture of sugar you’re consuming. Foods that stick to and between the teeth are a little worse than others, because they stay around longer. You could pair these foods with harder structured snacks to help break up the adherence.
I don’t know about you, but the thought of little bugs leaving acid waste on my teeth grosses me out. I also don’t know if I’ve ever eaten a meal that would not appetize these organisms, therefore I see brushing after meals to be totally justified. We should all be brushing morning and night, and I firmly promote brushing after every meal to be ideal. Carry a foldable toothbrush and mini toothpaste tube in your lunchbox or purse, and brush your chomps after you eat.
Oral health awareness:
Just being aware of what your consuming, and when, is the first major step. I noticed, after starting dental school, that my teeth were honestly taking a heavy beating. I was drinking coffee non-stop throughout the day, it was filled with sugary creamer, I was on a LaCroix kick and drank that at lunch, and every time I was in need of a snack I was reaching for a jelly-filled or chocolate-covered granola bar. Ouch. After a little consulting, I realized I either needed to balance my routine or find alternatives.
If coffee is life…
For the coffee addicts out there, you can still be saved. If you HAVE to drink coffee for life sustaining reasons, try to do two things.
Skip the creamer, or find an alternative. Black coffee is still acidic, but less detrimental if it doesn’t also invoke bacteria by having sugary creamers muddled in. My alternative has been adding in premade protein shakes, instead of creamer. They’re generally low fat and low sugar, they have a creamy consistency, and they taste a lot like the creamers on the shelf. I have been a BIG fan of Premier protein for a while, but their Cookies and Cream, Peaches and cream, and Carmel flavors are by far my best alternative to creamer.We’ll talk more on this another day!
Pair your caffeine with water. For every sip of coffee, chase it with a sip or two of water. This is also a little two-for-one, adding in the bonus fluids, which I also know we don’t drink nearly enough of! The idea behind this trick is that, while it doesn’t completely neutralize the oral cavity again, it does add a little buffer to the acidic drop.
Another way to conquer my habits, was to stop with carbonated drinks in general. I didn’t personally have an alternative to this, but after doing so I didn’t feel I needed one. I understand that soda is addicting, in all forms, but I actually genuinely felt better after doing so. I felt less crampy in workouts, I had better energy balance, and I was less bloated all day after doing so. Some alternatives I have read into though, is drinking more water (shooting for your body weight in ounces), adding sugarless or sugar-free additives to your water, or drinking tea instead. I think all are valid if you’re conscious about your choices.
Healthy diet hacks
Lastly, I’ve heard it before – buying healthy food is too expensive. I personally believe this is a sad societal norm that needs to be eliminated. It shouldn’t be that a hamburger is .99c and a salad is $7, but a truly healthy, balanced diet is not going to come from constantly eating out. Why do I push the healthy diet? Because if you have to eat sugar (which biochemically, yes you do need to eat at least a little sugar to sustain life) then its BETTER to consume your sugars in for form of produce. The way I have best found to supplement my pantry with wholesome foods is though co-op services. I am a frequent buyer of Bountiful Baskets, and I will always back this company. I still visit the grocery stores, but I’ve drastically lowered our food budget by ordering baskets when we can. A basket costs $18, and I walk home with a fridge full of fresh fruits and veggies. I often buy supplement packs as well, which vary by week.In the pic below I have two baskets, a mango box addition, and a snack pack addition. This company is completely volunteer organized and run, and the price beats every supermarket I’ve yet to encounter. Check them out if you need a little dietary boost, and email Sally or Tanya if your city could benefit from the addition of a co-op location.
No-one is perfect, but knowledge is literally power! Maybe your habits are sub par, like mine were, but all it takes are a few small changes in your routine to alter your overall health drastically. I hope you can benefit from these pointers, and steer your oral health in a positive direction. If you have any more pointers, I would LOVE to hear them!
Until next time,