What Causes Cavities?
Most people don't really know what causes cavities. We often hear parents say things like this:
"Everybody in our family has bad teeth" or "I had bad teeth as a child" or "our whole family wears dentures." or " my children from drink sodas all the time."
While there are many factors that contribute to the formation of a cavity the real cause of tooth decay can be summed up in one word - ACID.
That's right! Tooth decay is not genetic! Dentures are not catchy! A child is not destined to have rotten teeth because the parents did! To prevent a problem from happening again, we have to know what causes the problem in the first place.
The process of tooth decay is actually pretty simple. It goes like this: germs use sugar from your child's diet their food source and the by product of the germ's metabolism is acid. It's just that simple. Acid dissolves things. Remember the grade school experiment that shows a soda dissolving a nail? That's what acid does to tooth enamel thereby causing a cavity.
Your child's body has to have sugar and there will always be some germs in the mouth, so how can we prevent cavities? That's pretty simple too. Think about germs and sugar. Fewer germs will make less acid. Less sugar will give the germs less fuel to make acid. But it's not all about the acid. It's also about how often the germs make acid. Every time a child eats or drinks any kind of sugar, the germs in the mouth make acid. A little sip of juice is an acid producing event. A bite of a graham cracker is an acid producing event. Breast or bottle feeding is an acid producing event. Drinking a gallon of juice all at once is an acid producing event.
That's right! Drinking a gallon of juice all at once is a single acid producing event! So time is an important factor in the decay process as well. Specifically, how OFTEN is your child consuming sugars - because every time your child consumes anything containing sugar, the germs in the mouth make acid. The germs don't care if your child is consuming a balanced meal, eating birthday cake, drinking soda or juice - when the sugar passes your child's lips, the germs make acid and the decay process is active.
So the time factor as it relates to tooth decay is all about how OFTEN your child consumes sugars, not really how much. Drinking an 8 ounce glass of milk at mealtime is a single acid producing event. Drinking 8 ounces of milk one half ounce at a time over a 2 or 3 hour period, like most children do who use a sippy cup, is 16 acid producing events! It's like throwing a little stick on a small fire every so often just to keep the fire burning. Every single time sugars pass the lips, the germs produce acid in your child's mouth.
So, limiting carbohydrate consumption to definitive meal times each day decreases the number of acid producing events, thereby minimizing the possibility of decay.
Also, good oral hygiene decreases the overall number of germs in your child's mouth - fewer germs will make less acid.
Diet is also important factor in the decay process. Highly processed sticky foods stay in the mouth longer, giving the germs more time to produce acid. Natural sugars clear the mouth faster. Think tootsie roll versus grape - which one will clear the mouth sooner? The longer the sugars stay in the mouth, the longer the germs have to make acid. So avoid highly processed sticky "foods". One of Doctor Divya Iyer's favorite educational sayings is "Eat things with peelings - not wrappers."
Finally, minimize acid containing drinks in your child's diet. Sodas and "power" drinks are acidic solutions and offset the normal buffering effect of saliva. That's why soda drinkers have so many more cavities than non soda drinkers. Doctor Divya Iyer advises parents to not have sodas or power aid type drinks at home. On special occasions or at meals eaten out, sodas can be a "special treat" but consumed on a frequent basis, these type drinks lead to rampant decay. Doctor Divya Iyer says "No more than one soda a week.
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