The mouth in balance: cavities
What exactly are cavities? Tooth decay is one of the most common diseases throughout the world, and something that almost everyone has to deal with at one point in their life. They’ve been with us for a long time – over a million years ago, our distant ancestors Australopithecus suffered from cavities, and the incidence of tooth decay increased with the introduction of agriculture and starchy foods in the neolithic period. And it’s something that we’ve been treating for a long time too – we have teeth from Pakistan between 5500 – 7000 BCE which show holes drilled by primitive dental drills. The explosion of tooth decay, however, really occurred in Europe with the widespread introduction of sugar cane during the Middle Ages.
With children, we commonly call the bacteria that cause cavities “sugar bugs,” and for good reason. The bacteria that eat their way into a tooth can very easily convert refined sugars into acid, which is how they create the holes in our teeth. Unfortunately, these same bacteria can eventually eat most anything we eat, and will use it to produce acid – which is why regular brushing and flossing are so critical in making sure we remove the food and plaque that cause the cavities.
I like to think of our mouths as being a delicate system in balance, and anything that upsets that system can end up with a mouth filled with tooth decay or gum disease. For example, our saliva continually washes the teeth clean and is full of calcium, phosphate, and fluoride – the minerals our teeth need to protect themselves from acid – but if you have a dry mouth from drugs or medications, cancer therapy, aging, or changes in the saliva glands, the body is no longer able to defend itself against the bacteria in our mouth, and cavities will develop. If you eat a balanced diet staying away from processed and refined sugars and carbohydrates, your body should be able to maintain a healthy mouth. If you don’t brush or floss sufficiently, plaque will build up on your teeth and the bacteria will once again have the advantage over our body’s natural defences. If you happen to inherit bacteria from your parents that are particularly destructive, then your body will not be able to defend itself and the balance tips towards tooth decay.
A big part of preventing future decay is for a dentist to help you re-establish the balance in your mouth. Please feel free to book an appointment (604.683.5530) with me to talk about maintaining a healthy balance for your teeth and gums.