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Everything We Eat Or Drink Affects Our Teeth. Everything.

What your dentist used to say to you about getting cavities was misleading. What your mother used to say to you about staying away from the cookie jar was true. I’ll fill you in on what I mean.

Long ago, the theory of how patients contracted tooth decay went something like this: You had bacteria swimming around your teeth and gums. You ate some candy, and it fueled the growth of bacteria. The bacteria used this fuel to create acids that corroded your teeth. And that corrosion was, in fact, a cavity—a hole in your tooth from the bacteria and the sweets.

So we would tell our patients to teetotal. Because candy is the devil. And then we’d swish or paint some fluoride on their teeth and wait for them to return, only to see a new cavity show up. Some patients would come in and tell their dentist to not worry about making the next payment on their boat, because they needed another crown or a root canal for the new cavity they had.

So years went by, and dentists and researchers got in touch with their scientific side. They analyzed bacteria. They studied spit. They logged countless hours of discussions with their patients about their habits, foods, drinks, homecare. They noted family histories. They reviewed side effects of medications and drugs. And what they found was that bacteria wasn’t really the problem.

We can control bacteria well enough to allow the mouth to survive pretty well over time. But we have a hard time managing the pH balance of our mouth. The pH is a measurement of acidity. And if the pH is out of whack—or too acidic–then weird things start to happen. An acidic environment predominates. Bacteria accumulate. The building blocks of our teeth—the molecules that make up our tooth enamel—start to disintegrate. And a cavity is formed.

Everything we consume affects our teeth. Candy, carbohydrate-rich foods, and starchy foods are rich in sugars. They are the devil in that they change oral pH when the sugars ferment. Fruits are acidic and lower pH. Carbonated beverages do it too. And caffeine in our beverages slows the production of saliva. Saliva is important as a buffer to balance the pH of our mouth. And alcohol is a drying agent in a laboratory—you bet it dries the mouth in any form, be it mouthwash or cocktails. And that makes the mouth too acidic.

Most medications we take can also change how our saliva works. Dry mouth disorder is tremendously common in patients who routinely use 2 or more medications. And without the protection of saliva, the corrosion of our teeth happens more quickly and more severely.

But in the end, we can manage the pH balance if we continually and consistently respect how pH can go too low for too long. We can neutralize acid and regain pH balance in a number of easy ways. We can make out teeth more resistant to corrosion with the help of fluoride treatments. Even after we sneak a cookie or two.

Chris Rafoth is the owner of Lyons Creek Dental Care, providing medical dentistry, dental implants, and facial esthetics since 1998 for Shoreline and greater Seattle areas, as well as communities in King and Snohomish counties. Any questions or comments? Contact him at today!