Are Cavities Caused by Eating Too Much Sugar? Not Exactly

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If you are like most people, you probably grew up hearing that eating sugar would rot your teeth. Threats of torturous dental appointments accompanied your second bowl of ice cream and any over-zealousness around the Halloween candy came with promises that you would have the jack-o-lanterned grin of a career hockey player by the time you were 30.

As it turns out, that was something of an old wive’s tale. Sugar, you see, doesn’t actually cause cavities. 

Now, before you go dashing off, feeling secure in your decision to eat an entire bag of fun-sized Snickers, it is important to note that while starches, such as sugar, do not cause cavities directly, they are absolutely the catalyst for all those rotten teeth your mother warned you about.

Cavemen and Cavities

Are Cavities Caused by Eating Too Much Sugar? Not Exactly

Cavities and decaying teeth came into existence long before the world had any idea what a Sour Patch Kid was. Paleontologists have discovered more than a few skeletons that show clear evidence of tooth decay dating as far back as the Neolithic era, around 9,000 B.C. 

This was about the time humans were starting to move from a society of hunters and gatherers to one that was more agrarian and allowed for the consumption of grains and plants. These foods, previously on the fringes of their culinary repertoire, were now a staple. Along with this dietary shift came the onset of cavities. 

Prior to this, in the widely carnivorous Paleolithic era, tooth decay was almost unheard of, primarily due to the many species of bacteria that consume carbohydrates and then expel a compound that makes our saliva into something that eats away at our teeth instead of mineralizing teeth.

The Catalyst, Not the Cause

While it’s true that sugar does aid in the development of cavities and, in fact, is the source of several forms of dental rot and other oral maladies, it is not technically the immediate cause. 

The blame for that goes to plaque, a sticky layer that builds up on your teeth when you fail to brush. This biofilm is mostly made up of a particular type of bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) that are able to flourish by feeding on decomposing starches, such as sugar, and creating lactic acid as a byproduct. 

The ensuing build-up of this organic chemical compound induces a PH imbalance in the mouth, turning the saliva so acidic it can dissolve calcium phosphate, which is the mineral that makes your tooth enamel hard. It is the erosion and demineralization of this hard outer layer of your enamel that allows cavities to develop. 

When you eat more sugar, the bacteria grow faster. When the bacteria grow faster, they produce more lactic acid, and when they produce more lactic acid, more cavities are able to grow.

This is why it is essential for good oral health that your brush and floss a minimum of two times a day.

At McBride Dental, we want to help you and your family do everything possible to have and preserve healthy teeth and gums. By scheduling regular appointments with your California family dentist and practicing the oral care techniques we teach you, your whole family will easily maintain teeth that are healthy, strong, and effective.

The San Marcos dental offices of Dr. Michael McBride are staffed with reputable, professional San Diego dentists that are ready to address any concerns you may have regarding common dental procedures, as well as preventative, cosmetic, or restorative dentistry. We also provide sedation dentistry treatments as an option for our patients with severe dental anxiety.

It is our job to help you and your family establish healthy dental habits to make sure that your teeth will always be there when you need them and your smile will always look great.

If you would like to schedule an appointment with a San Marcos dentist, please give us a call at (760) 471-1003 and speak with a trained member of our dental staff today.

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