Dental Decay – Is it Still a problem?

I have been encountering more patients recently who have severe dental decay throughout their mouths.  This prompted me to write this article and hopefully the information will help someone take action to save and protect their teeth and overall health. 

With research abounding it seems impossible that there is an epidemic of dental decay.   The reality is that there are people who are more at risk for tooth decay than others.

Let me explain how dental decay starts:  Tooth decay results when naturally existing mouth bacteria act on dietary sugars and carbohydrates, producing an acid that diffuses into the tooth dissolving it. This usually shows up in extreme cases in 2 types of patient:

The elderly patient who has a chronic dry mouth from multiple medications.  Many of these people sip on Ensure or other high protein drink.  These supplements are usually recommended by their physician, but what the physician doesn’t know is that an 8 oz. bottle has 31 grams of sugar!  This is more concentrated and sweeter than any cola!!! I have visited numerous patients in their home who have an entire mouth of decay because they either sip on these drinks, suck on candies or have a high concentration of carbohydrates in their diet.  They usually have very poor oral hygiene, roots exposed and a poor diet.  These all add up to a problem of cavities. 

Those younger adults (age 15-30) who sip on 2-3 cans of Coke, Pepsi or Mountain Dew soda pop throughout the day.  These drinks contain 38 grams of sugar in a 12 oz can. They may not have a dry mouth like the older patient, but usually have many teeth with cavities on the front surface of upper teeth.  When pop gets sipped it remains on the outside of the teeth and just sits there dissolving them.  If you or someone else you know  tends to sip on pop throughout the day and shows dark or white spots their teeth when they smile they need to get into the dentist immediately. 

To prove my point, after drinking a cola grit your teeth together.  You will notice they feel “chalky”.  This is the microscopic breakdown of the hard outside layer of enamel.  If the teeth never get a chance to heal themselves this breakdown continues through the enamel layer and becomes a cavity.  Typically not just one or two teeth involved, but may are affected.

In addition, the saliva that your body produces has many protective proteins, enzymes and minerals in them.  After eating or drinking they repair the damaged areas.  Snacking or sipping sweetened drinks between meals eliminates these protective mechanisms from working. 

It has also been shown that the cavity causing bacteria can be transferred from one infected person to another by casual contact such as kissing or using a common eating utensil. 

So, What can be done?

  1. Stop sipping these high sucrose (sugar) containing products.  Instead, you may want to drink water—Not flavored sweetened water.  If you must, then switch to one with artificial sweeteners.  You can have sodas but just drink them with a meal and if you want to sip on something choose water.
  2. Make an appointment with your dentist and if you don’t have a happy dental home give us a call at (586)573-4500 or visit our website at to make an appointment.. 
  3. Your dentist may put you on a program of using fluoride.  This could be a gel or liquid rinse that is done at least once per day.  The fluoride actually rebuilds the areas that are not too damaged.  It also hardens the existing tooth structure.
  4. Brush your teeth at least 2-3 times per day or rinse with water after eating if you can’t brush your teeth.
  5. Floss or use a water-pick device to get between the teeth to flush out the food, etc.