You’ve probably been told your entire life that the best way to get rid of cavities is to brush, floss, and cross your fingers every time you visit your dentist.
If you’re like me, that tired old advice has let you down. No matter how well or often you brush and floss, you’ve probably still found yourself facing the business end of the dentist’s drill.
If you’re like other people we know, you even went out and bought a fancy electric toothbrush (the kind with 5 different brushing speeds), and the only difference you really noticed was in the size of your bank account.
I want to let you in on a little secret: your cavities are not your fault.
The truth is that if brushing and flossing worked, you wouldn’t have cavities. You may be the best brusher on your block, but if you’re not armed with the right information, you’ll still find yourself leaving the dentist’s office with a fat lip and a big bill.
There are 2 huge myths about cavities that have kept people like you and me from really addressing the root cause of their cavities.
It’s time to set the record straight.
Myth #1 – Brushing Is The Only Answer
Despite what you’ve been told, tooth-brushing isn’t the amazing dental cure-all it’s cracked up to be.
Don’t get me wrong, scrubbing away plaque and other gunk that builds up over time is good for your teeth. And your toothbrush is great for that.
Plaque is that nasty, sweaters-on-your-teeth gunk that you can scrape off with your fingernail. It’s what dentists call a biofilm (I know, gross, right?) – and you can think of it like a giant housing complex for icky oral bacteria.
Getting rid of plaque is a good idea, but there’s a reason it keeps coming back: the bacteria that create it are still in your mouth. Your toothbrush can’t eliminate bacteria. Even worse, unless you’re disinfecting your toothbrush between brushings, you may be reintroducing these bacteria to your mouth every time you brush.
The other problem is that your toothbrush is really bad at fighting the actual cause of cavities – tooth-eating acid. Later in this article, we’ll talk more about how to combat cavity-causing acid, but—spoiler alert—your toothbrush isn’t anywhere close to the top of the list.
Myth #2 – Sugar Causes Cavities
You were probably told as a kid that sugar causes cavities. The truth is that’s an oversimplification, and one that hasn’t done you any favors.
Your smile’s biggest enemy is acid.
Acid is a destructive force in your mouth, one that slowly dissolves your teeth with every exposure. You’ve probably seen videos on the internet where highly acidic soda pop is used to unblock a clogged pipe. Imagine that, except that it’s your smile on the receiving end.
That’s how cavities get started – acid eats away at your teeth, dissolving them so slowly that you don’t even notice until it’s too late.
So where does this acid even come from? Two places: 1) What you eat, and 2) the bacteria that live in your mouth.
Acidic foods (and especially drinks, like orange juice, soda, and even coffee) create acidic conditions in your mouth, which over time cause the damage that leads to cavities.
You know that guy in your office who sips from a 128-oz tub of diet soda all day? The soda with no sugar and no calories? He’s doing incredible damage to his teeth, bathing them in acid all day without even touching sugar.
The far larger threat, however, is those icky oral bacteria we talked about earlier. These bacteria thrive on tiny particles of the food you eat, and convert those particles to acid.
That’s where the sugar myth comes in – sugar itself is harmless to your teeth. But when nasty strains of bacteria get their hands on it (or any other carbohydrate), they convert it into cavity-causing acid.
Even if it’s been hours since you’ve eaten, if you have the wrong kinds of bacteria in your mouth, they may be churning out tooth-dissolving acid throughout the day.
However, if you don’t have the strains of bacteria that produce the most acid (or if you can manage to get rid of them…), then sugar poses no threat to your smile.
Why You Always Get Cavities (And Your Friends Don’t)
If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’ve felt like you get more cavities than your friends despite taking much better care of your teeth than they do. There’s a reason for that: you’re probably infected with one of these nasty strains of bacteria. And brushing, flossing, and avoiding sugar aren’t likely to make a difference.
Not everybody has the specific strains of bacteria that produce oodles of cavity-causing acid. You may have picked up this particular horde of oral invaders from your parents or loved ones, and have found yourself fighting an uphill battle against cavities that others simply don’t have to deal with.
That’s why we said up above that your cavities are not your fault. Some people simply end up with more harmful oral bacteria than others through no fault of their own, and brushing does relatively little to eliminate these cavity-causing oral invaders or remove the acid they create.
Solving Cavities Means Dealing With Acid
So, what can you do to deal with acid?
Your first defense is also your body’s natural defense against acid: saliva. Saliva works to normalize the acidity in your mouth after you eat, but as I mentioned above, that can take time - 30 minutes or more.
Even worse, people who suffer from dry mouth may never be able to naturally produce enough saliva to buffer against acid. Whether it’s from an illness, side effects of a medication, or just bad genetic luck, there are plenty of folks whose natural defenses against acid attacks simply aren’t up to the task.
Providing a buffer against acid attacks helps. Rinse your mouth with water after you eat to help buffer. Then chew a sugar-free gum to get your saliva flowing. Just know, much like your toothbrush, these tactics alone won’t help against your mouth’s biggest villains – oral bacteria that produce acid even when you’ve not eating.
There is, however, a fantastic new tool that dentists are raving about—one that directly targets and removes cavity-causing oral bacteria, leaving your mouth a much safer place for your teeth.