Though many people don’t consider it an actual disease, tooth decay is one of the most widespread chronic diseases in America. Over 90% of adults have had a cavity (a hole in your tooth caused by decay) in at least one of their permanent teeth, and decay is the most common chronic disease among school-aged children. Despite their prevalence, however, cavities are highly preventable with the right mix of good dental hygiene, professional dental maintenance, and refraining from snacking excessively on sugary snacks.
You’re likely aware that dental plaque is the sticky, unsightly, uncomfortable substance that sometimes covers your teeth and gums, but many people are unaware of what that substance comprises. At any given moment, there are over 600 different kinds of bacteria in your mouth. When they multiply and gather, the germs form the biofilm known as plaque as protection against your mouth’s natural defenses, like saliva. Brushing and flossing your teeth every day helps control plaque buildup on and between your teeth, depriving oral bacteria of their opportunity to cause harm.
The amount of bacterial types in your mouth is impressive, but luckily they’re not all harmful. A few, however, undergo certain processes that are specifically detrimental to your teeth and gums. For instance, Streptococcus mutans, which significantly contributes to plaque, converts sugars and carbs into acid, which paves the way for tooth decay by attacking your tooth enamel. As your body’s strongest produced substance, enamel relies on minerals to remain strong, which it typically extracts from your teeth themselves. Bacterial acid depletes these minerals from your teeth and weakens your enamel until it can no longer fend off a bacterial infection. Since you can’t eliminate oral bacteria entirely, controlling them with twice-daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental checkups and cleanings, is vital to preventing the formation of cavities.