More Preventive Ideas

Everyone would like to reduce the number and frequency of cavities that has to be treated on ourselves. There is a lot happening in science to help us as patients and dentists in the fight to reduce everyone’s exposure to tooth decay.

A 355ml (12 ounce) can of soda pop has at least 10 teaspoons of sugar. As well, soda pop is carbonated. Those bubbles in soda pop feel good and taste good, but they are acidic. It is acid that causes tooth decay. Sugar causes the plaque on our teeth to make more acid than food that does not have sugar. Acid in what we eat doesn’t have to be ingested by the bacteria in plaque in order to begin to dissolve tooth structure. So soda pop actually packs a double punch for teeth—sugar that the bacteria on our teeth will turn into acid, and acid in the bubbles. Just a little rinse with water (even if you swallow the water) after drinking a soda will reduce the decay causing potential of the soda pop substantially. A small amount of cheese actually reduces the acidity of the saliva as well thus counteracting some of the effects of acidic or sugar laden foods or drinks.

Xylitol is a substitute sweetener. It has been around for several decades. Back in dental school, we were all taught that xylitol in gum or candy does not cause tooth decay. Now more is known on this. The sweetener xylitol inhibits bacterial attachment to tooth surfaces. Remember it is bacteria that eats the food you eat and puts out acid that decays teeth, not food or sugar directly. And here is the new bit of knowledge in prevention for the day: Xylitol over time can create an oral environment incapable of supporting the primary bacteria implicated in tooth decay (streptococcus mutans). In short, xylitol can prevent tooth decay.

For this effect of xylitol to be reality, the person has to ingest 6-8mg of xylitol at fairly even increments throughout the day. If you look on the internet, you will find both candy and gum containing xylitol. The trick is to use 1mg or more at a time and spread out the doses through the day. To me, Xylitol is not as sweet as regular sugar. The xylitol gum seems to be not as tasty and lose its flavor quicker than regular gum. However, taste is the secondary factor when considering using xylitol sweetened gum or candy. What we are trying to do is prevent tooth decay. The fact that the substance that is doing it actually tastes sweet is just a bonus.

Parents chewing xylitol gum (at least 4mg of xylitol per day) spread evenly throughout the day PRIOR to childbirth will eliminate the chance of transmission of the primary causative agent in tooth decay (streptococcus mutans) to their newborn. It is a well known fact that babies are born without decay causing bacteria in their mouths. The bacteria is transmitted from other people—usually mom. Additionally, it is well known that if the baby is not colonized with streptococcus mutans by age 2, the incidence of tooth decay in the child is sharply lower throughout his/her young life, even if the bacteria is transmitted later.

If you know anyone who is getting older, you know that a common complaint is dry mouth. The addition of regular sugar containing candy is often the way these people choose to reduce the dryness of their mouths. This is devastating often resulting in a dozen or more cavities in the first couple of months after the habit is started. However, if the person decided to use xylitol candies instead, not only would the decay incidence not increase, we would expect a marked decrease in tooth decay when compared to earlier periods in the person’s life.

Ask your dentist if you would like more ideas on prevention of tooth decay in your mouth and the mouths of your loved ones.

This article was written by Dr. Mike Christensen and published in the Daily Miner and News, and Enterprise. Local Kenora News Publicatons (1998-2006)