The Real Cause of Tooth Decay: Acid

When many people learn they have a cavity they wonder where it came from. We’ve been told that sugar is the cause of cavities, but that is only the tip of the toothbrush. The real cause of tooth decay is erosion caused by acid. By balancing your body’s pH, you can help to create a safe environment for your mouth and help prevent tooth decay.

The Sugar Acid Connection

While acid is the real cause of tooth decay and erosion, sugar does play a major role. Our mouths are, in their own right, an ecosystem made up of tissues, glands, and bacteria that begin the process of digestion. Each relies on one another to keep our teeth and other oral tissues healthy. For example, saliva readies food for the stomach and also washes away harmful bacteria. When we eat, glycoproteins stick to our teeth. Glycoproteins are carbohydrates and proteins that are particularly sticky, and are the cornerstone of plaque. Soon after we ingest sugar the bacteria that has clung to the glycoproteins begins to trap and digest it. Bacteria need to eat to carry out their biological need to replicate and sugar is the perfect fuel. However as it is digested, acid is created.

Streptococcus mutans is the harmful bacteria that is responsible for dental decay and periodontal inflammation. S. mutans contains an enzyme called glucosyl transferase that binds together glucose and sucrose and produces fructose. This causes two harmful reactions. First, the polymerization of glucose and sucrose forms a long string of sugars molecules called dextran. Dextran is even stickier than glycoproteins and is the substance that forms plaque. While plaque is building, fructose is being created. This is a problem because when bacteria metabolizes fructose the byproduct is lactic acid. This acid negatively shifts pH in the mouth which allows the calcium and phosphorous in the tooth’s enamel to begin to dissolve.

Sugar facilitates the formation of cavities because of the acid it creates as the bacteria digests it. These biological reactions form dextran and lactic acid and keeps harmful bacteria cemented to the tooth in the form of plaque and produces acid that directly erodes the strongest substance in the human body.

Protecting Your Teeth From Acid

Knowing that acid is the reason teeth become eroded and decay in the first place, puts you in a winning position to protect your teeth. There are many ways that you can protect your teeth from acid erosion. The first and most important is to starve the harmful bacteria. To do this you can reduce the amount of sugar your teeth are subjected to, and remove sugars with an impeccable oral hygiene routine.

Reduce Sugar

Reducing the amount of sugar you consume is helpful for both your teeth and your entire body as well. Sugar is somewhat important to the body. It provides quick energy needed in certain situations, however too much can tax the system. Any cell in our body can digest glucose, however fructose can only be broken down by the liver. And excessive amount can be harmful for the liver and begin to cause problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and of course tooth decay. The sugars found in bananas, apples, and other fruits can help provide your body with quick energy but also vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. Cutting out sugary snacks like candy and soda and replacing them with fruit and water can greatly cut down on the amount of sugar your mouth and body are exposed to. Which, in turn, can improve your oral and overall health.

Improved Oral Hygiene

Of course, we are never going to be able to eliminate all sugars from our diets. Fruit, vegetables and even grains contain sugars and elements of sugars – also known as starch – which can be broken down into sugars that can fuel bacteria and promote the development of dental decay. The best way to remove the acid-producing sugars from the teeth is to take care of them. Brushing your teeth for two minutes twice each day works to remove bacteria and sugar from your teeth when it needs it most, at the end and beginning of each day. If you are prone to cavities or ingest a large amount of sugar, you may even want to brush after every meal, or chew a sugar-free gum containing xylitol. Xylitol is a sweet chemical found naturally in fruits that is unrecognizable to the S. mutans bacteria. This gum stimulates the flow of saliva and washes excess sugars away while starving S. mutans from the fuel it so craves.

Protecting yourself from dental decay can be easy once you understand how cavities form. Preventing acid by reducing sugar intake and implementing a beneficial oral health regimen can prevent cavities every day and improve your overall health. If you have questions on creating the perfect oral health routine, call our Jacksonville, Florida dental practice today! We cannot wait to help you on the way to total health.


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3940 San Jose Park Dr.
Jacksonville, FL 32217