You’ve probably been told since you were young to refrain from eating too much candy or else you’d develop cavities. Hopefully, the warning has guided your sugar consumption throughout your adulthood, as well. However, do you know how candy and sugar pose a threat to your teeth by causing cavities, or how to specifically protect your teeth from the dangerous processes they fuel? The truth is that certain germs that reside in your mouth use sugar to break down your teeth’s defenses, leading to tooth decay and the cavities that it causes.
Did you know that a healthy human mouth plays host to over 600 different identifiable kinds of bacteria? Even if you weren’t aware, you’re probably familiar with the sticky, colorless biofilm called plaque that these germs form when enough of them accumulate. Dental plaque protects these germs from your mouth’s natural defenses against them, and brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice a day is necessary to control plaque buildup. From the safety of this protective biofilm, oral bacteria can safely consume sugar and carbs from your meals, and then convert them into acid that erodes your teeth’s protective layer of enamel.
Tooth enamel is the strongest (and most mineralized) substance that the human body produces. Made almost entirely of calcium and phosphate crystals, enamel remains strong by absorbing minerals from your teeth. Unfortunately, when bacterial acid attacks, it not only weakens your enamel; it also depletes minerals from your teeth to prevent enamel from refortifying itself.
Luckily, acid dissipates in time (usually after about 30 minutes after your meal), and if your enamel remains intact when it does, then it can regain its strength through remineralization once your teeth replenish their minerals. However, if acid erosion occurs at a faster rate than remineralization (such as when you eat too much sugar), then your enamel can become compromised and cavities can develop shortly thereafter.
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