Our mouths are filled with thousands of different species of bacteria, most of which allow us to maintain a healthy oral environment so that we can function properly and are free of pain and infection. One such species, Mutans Streptococcus (MS), is harmful at normal levels, but can cause decay when its population size increases relative to the other species of oral bacteria. MS feeds on the sugars (namely sucrose and glucose) that we intake in our diet, and produce lactic acid as a byproduct. It is this acid which breaks down the minerals in our tooth enamel that contributes to the formation of a cavity. A diet high in sugars may allow the population of MS to reach a level in our mouth, where our natural cavity “protectors” (saliva, other bacterial species) our unable to neutralize the decay process.
Key point 1: Our children are not born with the bacterial species MS in their mouths. This bacteria is typically acquired between 18-30 months of age from an outside source (mom, dad, siblings, caregivers are the most common). The sooner that you child acquires this bacteria, the higher risk he/she is for tooth decay. Sharing of toothbrushes, pacifiers, or food utensils, kissing, and drinking from the same glass are the most common methods of transferring this bacteria and should be avoided. This is another reason why maintaining your own oral health (moms/dads) is so important. It not only effects you, it can have an affect on your child, as well.
Key point 2: Ingestion of acidic foods and beverages (soda pop, juices, citrus fruits) can breakdown tooth enamel in high quantities and under abnormal circumstances (ie. Poor salivary flow). The process of acidic breakdown of tooth enamel is termed erosion, and occurs independent of the function of the bacterial species, MS. Although, MS can readily utilize the sucrose in pop and juice to cause dental decay. Not only are these beverages high in sugar, they are also very acidic…a double whammy.