The most common mis-information that I have experienced in my 40+ years as a dentist is that candy and sweets cause tooth decay. As someone with a mean sweet tooth myself, I want to clarify what really causes tooth decay. The truth is you can indulge your sweet tooth as long as you understand the basics of oral hygiene.
ORAL HYGIENE BASICS
- Both decay and gum disease are caused by the same thing: Plaque.
- What is Plaque? Plaque is bacteria. Not food, not debris, but only bacteria
- If you disrupt all the bacteria from a tooth, it will immediately be drenched with saliva and bacteria. Bacteria will attach to the tooth surface and begin cultivation of a new colony. After approximately 24 hours the concentration of bacteria is capable of producing a harmful amount of acids and toxins that affect the tooth and gums.
- The acids produced by bacteria as well as acids in the beverages and foods we consume dissolve enamel, eventually resulting in decay.
- The toxins produced by bacteria will cause infection in the gum tissue. As with any infection, these toxins cause redness and swelling that might bleed during brushing, or produce pus when disturbed.
- Plaque is found mostly at, and just below, the gum line. If allowed, plaque would cover the entire tooth. But, the lips, tongue and cheeks rub and clean the exposed broad flat surfaces. It is only along the gum line and between the teeth that plaque remains. That is where cleaning efforts should be concentrated.
- Plaque removal must be accomplished at least once every 24 hours.
- When plaque is removed, food is an unimportant element whether there is a high sugar content or not. In the absence of a critical mass of bacteria, the presence of food does not matter. Meaning you can eat candy!
- Plaque must be removed mechanically. It cannot be rinsed, swished or water jetted from the teeth. It requires mechanical force.
- With proper brushing you can clean between 1-3 millimeters below the gum line. Therefore, the trough between the top of the gum line and the base that is attached to the tooth should be no deeper than 3 millimeters. At each recall appointment we check to make sure that this is the case.
- Remember, the two main reasons for tooth loss is decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
Enjoy your candy and sweets and make sure to keep your regular dental appointments to be certain that your daily hygiene habits are effective at controlling plaque build-up to prevent decay and gum disease.