This one I get asked a lot.  Usually it comes from a place of frustration than from genuine curiosity.  Regardless, cavities (or caries) are essentially bacterial infections albeit in a specific situation.  There are four contributing factors to decay.  They are as follows (in no particular order):  hygiene, nutrition, time, anatomy.

The first two are the ones you probably already know about.  Brushing your teeth removes bacteria that cause tooth decay (and other mouth problems).  Brushing can’t do it alone because it can’t reach the in-between spaces.  That’s where flossing and mouthwash help too.  Those bacteria that stick to your teeth are powered by carbohydrates (sugars).  That’s the nutrition part.  Avoid sugary drinks and snacks. Simple.  But now let’s discuss the things that you might not think about related to tooth decay.

The anatomy of the tooth itself will drastically affect the bacteria involved.  Some teeth have deep grooves in the top part (occlusal surface) that bacteria can hide in.  if you’re unlucky, some of these grooves are narrower than the bristle of a toothbrush.  That means that you can’t clean them effectively, even when you scrub.  That’s another spot that mouthwash can help.  This is also how sealants can help prevent tooth decay, especially in the molars of children.  Another factor is the state of the enamel of the tooth.  Is there a rough surface?  Then it is much easier for bacteria to adhere and start chiseling away!

The last and most interesting factor, to me, is time.  When you drink a soda, do you sip it over the course of a few hours or do you guzzle it down in seconds?  Surprisingly, the latter is the better method, at least for your teeth.  As you have an acidic or sugary (or both) drink like soda, the pH in your mouth changes to acidic.  Your saliva has to “buffer” that back down to a normal neutral pH.  That takes some time.  Even up to a half an hour sometimes.  That acidic environment is the optimal time for bacteria to work.  They loooove it!  If you sip, your mouth never really recovers that neutral pH.  Advantage: cavities!

Thanks for reading this blog.  As always if you have any questions feel free to ask!  Toothbrusher’s Dental (405) 789-6935.



I’ve always been fascinated with the balance of things.  Like how radar guns are used to detect speeders and then radar detectors (fuzz-busters) were invented.  Like how fungi fight bacteria by making penicillin, and then bacteria become resistant.

It seems that bacteria have had a secret weapon to accelerate tooth decay.  Fluoride has long been used to fight tooth decay.  The main action is through the binding of fluoride to the enamel of the tooth.  But, researchers found long ago that high levels of fluoride will be toxic to most bacteria.  Recently Yale researchers discovered that bacteria have a weapon against fluoride- the riboswitch.  This process can detect the build-up of fluoride and activate the defenses of bacteria, including those that contribute to tooth decay.

We should have known that these little test tubes of evolution would come up with something!  These riboswitches appear to not be a recent adaption and the mechanism seems only to be triggered for the survival of the organism.  So it probably won’t affect the way dentistry uses fluoride for tooth decay, coating the tooth to prevent the attack from causing damage.  Bacteria could use this pathway in the future to become resistant to the actions of current toothpastes and mouthwashes.  Of course much more research is needed.  Be assured that dentistry will continue to emphasize prevention as the best way to fight disease.

Journal Reference: Jenny L. Baker, Narasimhan Sudarsan, Zasha Weinberg, Adam Roth, Randy B. Stockbridge, and Ronald R. Breaker.Widespread Genetic Switches and Toxicity Resistance Proteins for Fluoride. Science, 22 December 2011 DOI:10.1126/science.1215063