Tooth Decay — the Inside Story

Dental Disease is not an obscure and mysterious ailment.  You didn’t inherit dental disease from your parents.  Dental disease is not only a disease of the mouth but also a disease of the body. Any time part of your body becomes diseased, it stresses  your entire body’s immune system.  The stress can be most harmful when the disease is a chronic one, which is the form of dental disease from which most patients suffer. Dental disease, especially gum disease, starts slowly, increases in severity, and then tenaciously hangs on, overloading your body’s protective defenses twenty-four hours a day, for as long as you have the disease. Not only does this drain you of energy, it ends up drastically lowering your resistance to any other disease to which you may be exposed.  When you look at it this way,  you can no longer afford to think of dental disease as an insignificant or harmless condition that affects only your teeth.

There are many types of dental disease, but the two that will concern you the most are tooth decay and gum disease.  These diseases aren’t the same — not in their cause, their severity, their treatment, or their cost to you.  You can have both at the same time or one without the other. Because they are so common, and the vehicles of so much pain and destruction, it is critical for you to understand their cause, treatment, and prevention.

Learning how to take care of your mouth is not difficult.  Fortunately, you don’t have to become a dentist or a hygienist to learn how to become an enlightened patient. But you do have to understand the basics of what you are up against in order to overcome dental disease.   This blog explains tooth decay.

All tooth decay, in one way or another, is related to diet. As we’ve become more civilized, our diet has become more refined, processed, overcooked, and over preserved. As we’ve developed new processing techniques and made more of this type of food avail­able to more people, the incidence of decay has risen proportion­ately. In other words, as we change our naturally balanced diet with so-called advances in food technology, without making corre­sponding changes in oral hygiene, we are literally creating tooth de­cay. Thus it really is a man-made disease, another by-product of our wild rush toward progress. Progress is a good-news/bad-news ven­ture; while it has given us many good things, it has also made us more susceptible to dental disease.

The cause of tooth decay is pretty straightforward, and once you understand the process, it will make freeing yourself from it a heck of a lot easier. In order for decay to occur in your teeth, three things are necessary: germs, food, and teeth.

  1. Germs —  Even though only a few types of germs (bacteria) are directly involved in tooth decay, hundreds are found in your mouth.
  2. Food — By “food,” I don’t mean just any kind. The foods that are most responsible for decay are highly refined and processed carbohydrates. Once the refining is over they are known by another name, sugar. There are many kinds of sugars, but when it comes to causing decay, sucrose (more commonly known as white sugar) is the most destructive.
  3. Teeth You guessed it! Teeth are an indispensable part of this trio. Without them you’d never get decay, but then you would not get to eat corn on the cob either. Some teeth are harder than others and may resist decay longer, but the decay process is the same no matter how quickly or slowly it proceeds.

These three ingredients need a nice, cozy place to get together, and your mouth fills this requirement to a T. But in order for the germs to really do a number on your teeth, they also need as much freedom from the brush, the floss, the water irrigation device, your hygienist, and the dentist as they can get.

From Dr. Tom McGuire