Ever since we were little, we were always told that if we ate sweets we would have holes in our teeth. This statement is fundamentally correct, but inaccurate. After all, sugar alone does no harm to tooth tissue. The actual damage is caused by an acid secreted by bacteria that sit regularly in the oral cavity, after they digest food residues left on the teeth.
The oral cavity is home to many types of bacteria, some of which play important and helpful roles in maintaining a healthy mouth. Next to them live harmful bacteria that can damage the enamel of the tooth – the shiny outer layer that protects the teeth. Oral bacteria, in general, do not cause any harm, but unhealthy eating habits or poor hygiene can help harmful bacteria to multiply and thrive, and cause harm.
The bacteria feed on the food scraps left on the teeth and gums. They especially like to utilize sugars or carbohydrate-rich leftovers to extract energy from them. In the process of processing sugars and carbohydrates, the bacteria emit acids, and especially lactic acid, as a by-product. Every time we consume sugar without brushing our teeth, the bacteria produce more and more acid. In continuous contact, the acid damages the enamel and dentin layer that coats the tooth. Thus the veneer weakens until a small hole is eventually formed in the tooth.
Later, if the hole is left untreated, it may grow and reach even the deeper layers of the tooth. This process can lead to a feeling of pain and sensitivity to cold And heat. In advanced stages, pus pockets, gum swelling and fever may develop. When the damage is very severe, we may Losing teeth.
This process that the bacteria cause is a disease called Tooth decay. It is a chronic disease, and there is evidence of it in humans since ancient times. The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide Suffering from tooth decay About 2.3 billion people have grown permanent teeth and another 560 million children have deciduous teeth.
The two main types of bacteria that cause tooth decay are Streptococcus mutants (Streptococcus mutans) And Streptococcus sobrinus (Streptococcus sobrinus). They adhere to the teeth with the help of a sugar polymer called dextran and form a bacterial layer called plaque on the surface of the teeth and in the spaces between the teeth and gums. This plaque is important to remove by brushing, rinsing the mouth and cleaning teeth at a dental hygienist. Once the hole in the tooth has been formed, the dentist can clean the enamel residue and plug the hole with filler.
Caution, prevention and treatment
Caries affects people of all ages. Babies get the usually harmful bacteria from their mother. Babies whose mothers have high levels of harmful bacteria will usually get the bacterium earlier than children whose mothers’ oral hygiene is healthier.
Caries is especially common Between the ages of 12 and 19. It is less common in young children and adults, but increases significantly in adults who suffer from receding gums. It is also more common in people from low socioeconomic status, in part due to the high-carbohydrate and sugary diet that is typical of poor populations.
To prevent tooth decay it is advisable to avoid overeating processed or refined sugar, such as that found in sweets, snacks, sugary drinks and the like. Even foods that are considered healthy, such as dried fruits, honey and fruit juices can be harmful if not eaten in moderation. Ensuring thorough and regular brushing will curb the effects of the bacteria on the teeth and make it difficult for them to feast on the sugar left on the teeth and harm the health of the tooth. And of course it is important to visit the dentist and dental hygienist regularly to remove the plaque layer and locate holes early on.
And in the future? A vaccine against the harmful bacteria may be developed. Many attempts have been made in recent decades Develop a vaccine For tooth decay, and some have even had success in animal experiments, but still none of them have reached application in humans.