Trick or Treat?

Author: Dr. Alison Vitelli-Berger, DMD, FAGD

As we dive into the sugary season of Halloween, I thought of the importance of keeping a healthy and stable oral environment in order to keep cavities away.

But what causes cavities? Well, bacteria in the mouth feeds off of the sugars found in our diet. Simple sugars, such as candy, are perfect for these bacteria to feed on. As a result of their metabolism, they secrete acids that will be sitting on our teeth and start to weaken the enamel structure. This is when cavities form. So, think about it, every time we eat, the acidity in our mouth elevates, decreasing the pH in our mouths. It takes the saliva (higher pH) an average of 30 minutes, sometimes even longer, to neutralize this acidic environment. The more frequently we eat or drink sugary foods, the more we expose our teeth to the acid from the bacteria, sometimes, up to the point where the pH of the mouth will not be able to be elevated as effectively. This, in combination with poor plaque removal, is detrimental to our oral health and drastically increases the risk of getting cavities.

Saliva is a key sustainer of the balance needed in the mouth to prevent cavities. Unfortunately, some patients do have a good oral hygiene regimen and their caries risk is high. And they do ask us, “why do I still get cavities?”. There are some systemic conditions that can prevent the saliva acid buffering ability at its optimum capacity. Some vitamin deficiencies, history of gastric bypass, anemia, acid reflux, bulimia and dehydration, are some examples of conditions that can affect the acidity in the mouth. This is why we always strive on letting our patients know the importance of the dental health and the connection it has with the rest of our systemic health. It is not a trick our mouth is playing after we have our treats.