This time of year I think about candy – A LOT. It could be that I have 3 small, candy loving kids at home, who have been planning Halloween since May. Or that candy is in every aisle of every store I shop. Maybe it is because this time of year I enjoy indulging just a little more, because those caramel apple suckers are only around this time of year. What ever angle it comes at me, however, I am constantly reminded of how this fun holiday called Halloween is entirely made up of candy consumption. Being a mom/dentist, this makes me cringe just a little bit. Ok, more than just a little bit.
So, what really happens to teeth when they are bathed in sugar?
The human mouth is full of bacteria, some good, and some bad. One particular species, call Streptococcus mutans, is the one responsible for tooth decay. The reason is because it loves sugar just like we do! And when it consumes the sugar, it creates a sticky plaque and lactic acid layer. Basic chemistry: acid dissolves mineral and teeth are made of mineral! Over time, if the outer layer of the tooth is eroded, a full blown cavity forms! This is what causes icky rotten teeth! Demineralization and cavities only form if the bacteria/plaque/acids hang around on the teeth for a while.
Now for the GOOD news
Strep mutans and lactic acid can only cause tooth decay if they sit on the tooth for a long time. If the plaque is physically removed, it can’t hurt the tooth! Brushing 2-3 times daily and flossing will ensure that the plaque can’t sit long enough to damage the tooth. Topical fluoride in any toothpaste also aids in preventing tooth decay because fluoride disrupts the bacteria’s ability to form the acids that dissolve teeth! See, it is that easy to protect your teeth! If you brush well with fluoride toothpaste and floss every day you can enjoy that favorite treat! Just scrub those chewing surfaces really well! So this Halloween, if you stop by my house, you might get a yummy treat, and you will definitely get a toothbrush!!!