Tooth decay: A thing of the present, not the past

 In blog, Education

With advances to modern medicine (and specifically dental advances) it would make sense to assume that our teeth would be healthier than our ancestor’s teeth were. We have access to dentists, fluoridated toothpastes, fancy electric toothbrushes and mouthwash rinses, yet somehow decay manages to creep its way into our lives. Why would it be that we are no better off than civilizations of the past? What is causing our dental issues?

First, the science behind cavities: Only a tooth, bacteria and carbohydrates must be present for a tooth to decay; and as humans have evolved, so have our mouths. Our mouths house hundreds of species of bacteria, some good and some bad. One very bad bacterium called Streptococcus mutans is the main cavity-causing culprit and its goal is to break down tooth enamel.  As our enamel breaks down, our teeth become susceptible to cavities, which can then cause pain or even infection.

Now, the history: Why would bacteria result in more decay now than hundreds of years ago if it has always been present? When we look back in history we find that human diets have changed drastically. Our diets began to evolve when we shifted from hunter-gatherers (eating meat, vegetables and nuts) to farmers (eating carbohydrates and sugars). It’s now more common to eat processed and packaged food as well as drink sugary liquids due to busy schedules and easy access to these items. The changes in diet havemade a huge difference in the composition of our mouths. Some of the good bacteria in our mouths were overtaken by the aggressive Streptococcus mutans because they love carbohydrates, which we learned means more enamel breakdown and more decay.

Finally, the solution: Each time you come into Lincoln Pediatric Dentistry, we discuss the importance of a healthy diet. We explain how important it is to stay away from foods and drinks that are acidic or high in sugar. We also stress the need to avoid sticky foods like fruit snacks. Sugar is the prime culprit for dental decay. If you work hard to avoid the foods that are likely to stick to your teeth and act as a catalyst for bad bacteria, you have a great chance of staying cavity-free.

For more information about how our mouths have evolved, check out these articles:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/phenomena/2012/12/21/the-evolution-of-cavities/

https://www.history.com/news/new-research-drills-into-history-of-cavities

https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/130301_plaque

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