Ask Dr. D: Why am I getting cavities?

Dear Dr. Diesburg:

I brush twice a day and floss. Well, sometimes I floss. But I’m still getting cavities. Do I just have bad teeth?

Looking for Holy Molars in McMinnville

Dear Holy Molars,

If you were in the chair asking me this question, the first thing I would want to know is the factors that are causing your cavities. It sounds like your oral hygiene is good. But that’s only one third of what causes cavities. The second part is the kind of bacteria you have.

Everyone has different levels of bacteria. Good oral hygiene can help keep down the bad bacteria and promote the good ones. But to a certain extent, the kind of bacteria you have is set in stone. In the majority of cases, when adults are getting cavities, it has to do with how much and what they are feeding those bacteria. Bacteria use sugars and simple carbohydrates to make acid, which pulls the minerals out of your teeth and makes the holes we call cavities or caries. It doesn’t matter how MUCH sugar gets in your mouth as how often. Lots of small snacks in between meals, or grazing, make you much more likely to get cavities than if you’re just eating at meals. Even a small amount of sugar is enough for them to thrive.

Do you put sweetened coffee? Do you drink soda pop? Do you have a bowl of berries sitting out on the table to graze on? Do you sample little bits of sweet ingredients while you are cooking? Do you suck on mints? Do you grab a handful of Skittles every time you pass the bowl? Once we’ve figured out the cause, if you’re not going to stop your behavior, be aware of how often you do it. If you’re drinking coffee with sweetener, drink it in 5-10 minutes instead of drinking it all morning. If it’s snacking, then try to have a specific snack time.

If you do get anything sweet in your mouth between meals, drink some water, swish it around and get the sugar off your teeth. In a healthy mouth, saliva or spit clears out sugar in 10-15 minutes. So if you’re snacking once every quarter hour, that’s constant sugar for the bacteria in your mouth. The last thing that you put in your mouth before you go to bed should be your toothbrush. You never want to have something sweet before you go to bed. If none of this sounds like you at all, then it may be we need to look at your salivary flow. Talk to your dentist about dry mouth if you are experiencing that.

Good luck!

Sincerely, Dr. Diesburg

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