With Halloween around the corner comes scary costumes, jack-o’-lanterns and of course candy, so it is as important as ever to think about oral health. All those sugary treats can do damage to the teeth and gums. That is not to say that candy should be avoided entirely as trick-or-treating is an integral part of the holiday fun for children. It just means it is a time to be vigilant about keeping up with oral hygiene, limiting other sources of sugars and making candy choices wisely.
Cavities are a result of bacteria in the mouth, specifically Streptococcus mutans, that when left unchecked by inadequate oral hygiene will build up forming plaque on teeth. Then upon food consumption the Streptococcus mutans colonies break down carbohydrates by fermentation secreting acid as a by-product. It is that acid which dissolves the mineral surface of teeth known as enamel leading to soft spots and eventually dental caries. The acid forming bacteria can use sugars such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, and mannose as well as sugar alcohols such as mannitol and sorbitol to produce acid. To make matters worse, Streptococcus mutans thrives in a low pH so by secreting acid it is creating an ideal environment for the species to overgrow further making for a nasty cycle.
Our bodies naturally try to counter the pH shift and resulting damage that happens with eating in the time between meals. Salvia sweeps away leftover food particles and contains minerals such as calcium and phosphorus that remineralize the enamel. Thus, besides being uncomfortable, having dry mouth is an issue that needs to be addressed as there is a potentially higher risk of developing cavities. Another thing that interferes with the body’s protection and repair mechanisms is frequent snacking. When we eat between meals the amount of time our teeth are subject to a low pH and demineralization increases and the time for healing decreases.
Cavities are one of the most common diseases for both children and adults, but they are especially prevalent in children. This is due to various reasons; from a misconception of the importance of baby teeth, inadequate oral hygiene, or too much snacking. In reality dental disease of baby teeth can damage permanent teeth and although we like to think kids do a good job brushing their teeth, they usually need supervision until 6 to 8 years old. It isn’t all about kids though; dental health in adults is just as important. Oral disease has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, osteoporosis, pre-term birth, and autoimmune disease. Your mouth is also the place where digestion starts and there is growing evidence that oral disease is associated with gut dysbiosis and disorders.
So what can you do to prevent cavities for yourself or your family?
Maintain good oral hygiene:
•Brush twice daily – for kids this should start at the eruption of their 1st tooth.
•Floss daily – for kids this should start as soon as two teeth are touching.
•Visit the dentist every 6 months – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids see a pediatric dentist by 1 year old.
•Use a toothpaste with minerals such as calcium and phosphorus for remineralization and L-arginine, an amino acid that may have anti-cavity and desensitizing benefits.
•Use mouthwash or as a natural alternative practice oil pulling with sesame oil.
•Replace toothbrush every 3 months.
•Avoid sugary drinks like soda and juice – an alternative is diluted unsweetened cranberry juice which can inhibit bacterial adhesion to teeth.
•Limit sources of sugars such as cakes, cookies, donuts, pastries, ice-cream, custards, etc., as well as refined carbs such as crackers, pretzels, breads, etc. — although natural sugars and complex carbs are better, if cavity-prone then even limiting fruits, grains and potatoes can be helpful
•Substitute cane sugar with stevia — Streptococcus mutans does not ferment the steviol glycosides so it can be used as a sweetener without contributing to cavities plus it will not affect blood sugar levels.
nLimit snacking between meals and don’t eat after brushing your teeth before bed.
nChew sugarless/xylitol gum – this can increase saliva production plus Streptococcus mutans does not ferment xylose/xylitol.
•Use oral probiotics – this can help to maintain a healthy bacterial balance in the mouth minimizing Streptococcus mutans.
Halloween Specific Recommendations:
•Avoid: sticky candies including caramels, toffee, taffy and gummies that can get stuck in your teeth; hard candies like lollipops that take a long time to dissolve.
•Best choice: chocolate bars or candies especially dark chocolate.
• Alternative option: trail mix packets.
Dr. Jennalyn McBride is a Naturopathic Doctor at Northwest Center for Optimal Health in Marysville, WA. Contact her at 360-651-9355 or email@example.com.