What Causes Tooth Decay?


           Tooth decay (dental caries) is the result of bacterial infection. Anyone who has any of their natural teeth has an extensive amount and variety of bacteria in their mouths. These bacteria consume food particles on and around teeth and then release toxins that can damage your teeth, gums and jawbone. The toxins that some of these bacteria (Streptococcus Mutans in particular) release in your mouth are acids. Those acids corrode your teeth causing holes or cavitations (hence the term "cavity") called carious lesions. The extent and severity of this problem are controlled by several key factors that include; the aggressiveness of the infective bacteria, the oral environment in which these bacteria exist and your mouth's natural resistance to these bacteria. Obviously, the more aggressive that these decay causing bacteria are, the more excessive will be your decay rate. This factor is beyond your control.

           The oral environment is completely within your control and is governed by means of diet, habits and oral hygiene (home care). Decay causing bacteria like Streptococcus Mutans produce more acids after the consumption of very sugary or very starchy foods (pastry is an example of both). The stickier these types of foods are, the greater is their cariogenic (decay causing) potential. Foods like taffy will remain on the surfaces of your teeth longer so the bacteria can feed on them longer and produce more acid. Limiting these foods in your diet will reduce your decay rate. Using chewing tobacco and snuff increase your decay rate so you should avoid them. Thorough brushing and flossing every night just before bed time will remove any remaining food particles from your teeth at the time when your teeth are most susceptible to decay. Salivary flow is decreased while sleeping due to mouth breathing and for other reasons. This is why your mouth tastes like an old shoe when you wake up in the morning. Saliva (spit) protects your teeth by keeping the bacteria that cause dental decay in check. If food particles remain around your teeth while you are sleeping, your decay rate will increase. Using a fluoride rinse after your nightly brushing and flossing will harden your teeth and make them more resistant to decay. Fluoride treatments performed for you here in our office are even more effective for this purpose.


Decay of the lower front teeth so extensive that it would be termed "rampant" in this case.

           Although you might think that your natural immunity to decay is totally genetic (inherited), this is not completely true. While your intrinsic resistance to decay is mostly nature, some of it comes from nurture in the form of fluoridated water. Consumption of fluoridated water from birth through adolescence greatly increases the hardness of your teeth because they not only take up fluoride internally through the bloodstream as they are forming which makes them harder, they are constantly being bathed by fluoride that is excreted in the saliva as well. Internal uptake occurs exclusively during tooth formation and teeth can only take on fluoride externally thereafter (as when using a fluoride rinse or when bathed by fluoride that is excreted in the saliva ) which is most effective. Community water supply fluoridation is the single most successful public health measure ever undertaken in this country. The ability of your saliva to inhibit cariogenic bacteria (mainly in the form of antibodies to those bacteria) is purely a function of your genes.




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Dr. Barry F. McArdle, D.M.D. ~ 118 Maplewood Avenue, The Captain Moses House, Suite B-7, Portsmouth, NH 03801

Questions or Request an Appointment: Contact Us     Phone: 603-430-1010     Email: drmcardle@mcardledmd.com     Website: http://mcardledmd.com