First, let me start off by saying sugar is my weakness. I love sweets, always have. I gotta have 'em. Unfortunately, I pay the price with my general health. Like so many I am overweight and I have high blood pressure. But at my ripe age of 51, I have had only four cavities, all when I was around 6 or 7 years old. Why is that? If you believe every toothpaste and mouthwash commercial and every dentist in town, I should have a mouthful of decayed teeth.
Well, it's not so simple, and yes, SUGAR does play a significant role in the formation of cavities. The real culprit, however, is bacteria. Specifically, it is a bacterial strain known as Streptococcus mutans, a distant relative of the germ that causes strep throat. The problem is that during and after a meal these germs consume the sugars and carbohydrates found in our foods and drinks. They process that sugar for energy and create an acidic environment that demineralizes the superficial layer of enamel causing a small hole, a cavity, to form on the tooth. If left untreated, the hole rapidly grows and can reach the dental pulp causing infection and significant pain.
Our battle against tooth decay is fought on a few fronts. Prevention is the key and is geared to minimize or eliminate the effects of bad germs in your mouth, while simultaneously strengthening enamel. This is accomplished with good oral hygiene habits at home. Daily brushing and flossing are a must. Watching your diet is also important. Remember that germs love sweets more than you do. The best time to eat sweets is after a meal when you are producing the greatest quantity of saliva. The worst time to eat sweets is between meals and before bedtime when salivary production is at its lowest. Saliva is a known protector of enamel. Drink lots of water and eat fruits or veggies in between meals... An apple a day also keeps the dentist away.
Fluoride strengthens enamel and is readily available. We find it in tap water, toothpastes and mouth wash. By exposing your teeth to fluoride, you create a stronger outer layer of enamel that resists the acids produced by germs.
Finally... and you know this was coming... regular visits to the dentists and getting check-ups and cleanings are important to catch cavities early before they damage your teeth or cause a bad toothache.