The shiny, white enamel that covers your teeth is even stronger than bone. This resilient surface is 96 percent mineral, the highest percentage of any tissue in your body – making it durable and damage-resistant.
And yet we seem to get cavities or, tooth decay, in our teeth very easily. Or at least many of us do. So why do we get cavities in this extremely hard substance?
Your parents probably told you as a kid, “don’t eat too many sweets, they will damage your teeth and you will need to go to the dentist for fillings”. But many people don’t eat sweets or candies and still get tooth decay and need to have a filling.
So what is the full story about why we get cavities?
Your mouth is a hive of activity, like a factory. In this case it is full of living beings called bacteria.
The bacteria in our bodies are generally harmless. Some are extremely beneficial but there are also some bacteria that cause diseases.
For example there are billions of bacteria in your mouth and some of them cause oral disease such as tooth decay, (often called cavities), and gingivitis which can lead to periodontal disease.
These bacteria are microscopic–only 1/500th of a human hair in width – but small as they are, they cause big problems because there are so many of them. There are an estimated 300 different species of bacteria living inside our mouths, totalling a billion or more at any given time.
Can you imagine your mouth is a mini world that is a lot like our planet earth?
Earth has billions of people and your mouth has billions of bacteria. Earth has hundreds of different ethnic races and your mouth has over 300 different types of bacteria.
Your mouth is actually home to entire communities of microorganisms that are recycling your food and drinks and learning and working just like we do.
The Bacteria in your mouth Excrete Pooh that Causes Tooth Decay
Bacteria are living beings. This means they move, eat, grow, reproduce and discharge waste matter. And, that’s how they cause tooth decay in our mouths.
By feeding on the sugars in the foods and drinks we consume, they grow – and they produce waste matter, in the form of a biofilm known as dental plaque.
This plaque allows all those little recyclers to stick around your teeth longer, until eventually they make acids, which wear down the tooth enamel and cause cavities.
The dental plaque created by bacteria produces toxic substances that irritate the gums, making them red, sensitive, and susceptible to bleeding. This is called gingivitis. If untreated, gingivitis may become periodontitis, a more serious gum disease, in which gums pull away from the teeth and form pockets that fill with bacteria and pus. If the gums are not treated, the bone around the teeth can be destroyed and teeth may become loose or have to be removed.
Unfortunately, many of the foods you eat cause the bacteria in your mouth to produce acids. Sugary foods are obvious sources of plaque, but there are others that you might not realize can cause harm. For example, starches—such as bread, crackers, and cereal also cause acids to form.
Did you know tooth decay is actually an infectious disease?
The bacteria that cause tooth decay are spreadable. According to the science journal Microbiome , an otherwise innocent ten-second kiss can spread 80 million bacteria between mouths!
This is why we need to help babies and children practice good oral hygiene because they not only ingest food that feeds bacteria, they get good and bad bacteria from those loving kisses we give them. For more information about oral hygiene for babies and kids see our article
These are the bacteria we need to manage through good oral hygiene practices, healthy diet and dental check-ups, even for kids.
Tips to Keep Those Cavities At Bay
Brushing after meals, using antimicrobial mouthwash, and flossing at least twice per day helps to keep these disease causing bacteria from reproducing in your mouth, and causing tooth decay.
Finally, healthy diets that minimize sugary and starchy foods not only help keep the weight down but also help to keep those bad bacterial under control so you won’t get tooth decay and have a mouth full of fillings.