I believe that most doctors are in the business of putting themselves out of business. We want to see our patients healthy and happy. I enjoy telling my patients that their teeth look good and that they can see me for their next cleaning (whenever is appropriate). Still, though, I see patients who get cavities on a regular basis. What many people do not know though is that cavities are completely preventable. Bacteria digests carbohydrates present in the mouth from eating and produces acid strong enough to eat through the teeth to cause cavities. If you block any part of this formula, you stop cavities from forming. I will be spending this blog post and the next two talking about how to stop cavities. I start with bacteria because it's the most complicated part of the formula. However, it is the first part of getting cavity, and minimizing the virulent bacteria is easy.
Have you ever noticed how one year you might get a cold that only lasts for 24 hours and another year you might get a cold that lasts an entire week? A large reason for this is that there are different strains of the same virus. The same is true of bacteria in the mouth, as certain strains of bacteria cause cavities more than other strains do. Also, many different bugs work together to cause the cavities, and it is estimated that researchers discover a new species about every 3 months. The bacteria form into plaque to protect themselves from being brushed off by a toothbrush or washed off by water and saliva. Some researchers are trying to develop techniques to identify the most potent strains as well as therapy methods to introduce less harmful and perhaps beneficial bacteria into the mouth, but these methods are far from proven.
When people tell me that bad teeth run in their family, I believe that more often its that bad bacteria runs in their family. No child is born with bacteria in her mouth, and the bacteria isn't present until the first tooth comes in. The child often gets this bacteria from mom. This means that if mom has had bad cavities that her child is far more likely to have bad cavities. Also keep in mind that babies can get these worse species of bacteria from other adults (like dad, grandparents, aunts, and uncles) who are kissing the child. Mothers of infants should have all cavities in their mouths fixed before the child starts teething to minimize the risk of passing down cavities to their kids. Also relatives who don't take good care of their teeth should be told to limit their contact with the infants. While it may seem harsh that grandpa can't kiss his grandbaby, if granddad had an open sore on his hands, would you want him touching your child?
To minimize the bad bacteria and lower overall the bacterial count, I have three recommendations. First, get all cavities fixed. Cavities are sources where the bacteria can spread easily from tooth to tooth and mouth to mouth. Second, good brushing of the teeth and the tongue, as well as flossing, can help break up areas where softer plaque has formed and lower the bacterial count. Last, for patients that have chronic cavities, using prescription grade mouth rinses such as peridex can kill these bugs. Peridex is used in many parts of medicine from cleaning of wounds to scrubbing for surgical sites. It kills many different bugs but does little to no harm to humans when used appropriately. If for some reason you do not have access to peridex, Listerine and its generic versions are great as well.
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Many people don't realize that cavities are an infectious disease caused by bacteria. When we treating cavities as a disease rather than just a part of life, then we can find some solutions to helping prevent costly dental treatment. Much like washing hands on a regular basis helps prevent the spread of the common cold around the office, keeping a clean mouth helps prevent the spread of cavities to little ones. Also while many people understand the importance of brushing, using floss as well as mouth rinse can add the extra strength needed to keep your mouth healthy. Next week I'll be discussing how sugar keeps me and my fellow dentists in business.