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Understanding Tooth Decay
Monday, November 10, 2014

You may think that processed sugars signaled the dawn of tooth decay but actually it was agriculture. Archaeologists have found evidence of tooth decay (along with the primitive means to repair it) in human remains from the Neolithic period, or about 9000 BCE. This was also the time period when humans began to rely more on agriculture for dietary needs than hunting and gathering. What was it about agriculture that changed everything for our teeth? The regular and increased intake of grains.

It’s fairly well known now that our bodies turn carbohydrates into sugars and that a diet high in carbs can lead to poor health. But what may not be as well known is how carbs can affect your teeth.

Several types of oral bacteria found in plaque feed on carbohydrates and produce acid as a byproduct. The acid they produce eats away at the thin, protective outer layer of our teeth, our enamel.

Enamel loss is called demineralization and the building up of enamel is called mineralization. Both states are in constant flux in the human mouth. While eating, and therefore feeding the bacteria, leads to demineralization, our saliva helps to neutralize the acid produced by oral bacteria, keeping the process in check.

This is true until our mouths get too acidic because the neutralizing effects of saliva just aren’t enough to balance the system. When demineralization goes on for too long, our teeth begin to rot.

Brushing after meals will clear away food particles, essentially starving the bacteria. Without regular brushing, bacteria colonies bloom and spread, accelerating the demineralization process that leads to tooth decay.

Several studies suggest that particular foods and eating frequently do the most damage to our teeth. One study found that cooked starches, such as potato chips, have the highest staying power and cause the most damage to our oral health. Another study showed that eating often causes significantly more damage than infrequent meals. In short, snacking on processed foods is a bad health habit when it comes to our teeth.

We recommend sticking to three meals a day, brushing after each one, and if you’re going to snack, choose healthy, unprocessed foods such as vegetables or fruit.

Give us a call today. We’re always happy to provide tips and advice for how to keep your teeth for a lifetime.

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