What Causes Cavities?

The process of cavity formation is not as straightforward as most people think it is. Bacteria eat sugar and produce acid, which causes decay (loss of mineral from the tooth) and eventually a cavity (literally a hole in the tooth). Decay is reversible by diet and oral hygiene, but a cavity is not reversible. It has to be filled.

Foods that are acidic but don’t have any sugar in them can still cause decay e.g. diet soda. When we eat sugar, our saliva can be acidic for up to two hours and our teeth are decaying the entire time. The stickier the food is the longer the “acid attack” lasts. Sugary or acidic drinks produce an acid attack that lasts about 30 mins.

Foods that cause cavities

  • Anything with sugar in it!
  • Most fruit, especially bananas and citrus
  • Bread
  • Sweetened yogurt
  • Potato chips
  • Crackers
  • Cereal
  • Pasta
  • Honey
  • Jam
  • Peanut butter
  • Anything with “citric acid” in it. Check the label!Cola (diet cola is better but still very acidic)

    Drinks that cause cavities

    • Cola (diet cola is better but still very acidic)
    • Iced tea
    • Fruit juices
    • Lemon water or flavoured water
    • Crystal Light or anything similar (because of the citric acid)
    • Energy drinks
    • Most smoothies
    • Almost any alcoholic beverage

      Foods & drinks that do not cause cavities

      • Meat
      • Eggs
      • Fish
      • Cheese
      • Vegetables
      • Beans
      • Nuts
      • Grains e.g. oats, millet, wheat
      • Milk
      • Regular tea/coffee

      Snacking or constantly sipping on drinks that cause cavities is a major problem. Try and space out snacks as much as possible, or eat something that doesn’t cause decay. By doing this, you will give your teeth a chance to recover from an acid attack and let the minerals in your saliva go into your teeth to repair some decay. Think about how much of the day your teeth are being attacked by acid versus how much of the day they are repairing.

      If you do eat a food that causes cavities, try to brush and floss your teeth afterwards, use a fluoride mouth rinse, or at least rinse your mouth out with water to try and get rid of the food or neutralize the acid. You could also chew sugar free gum to stimulate saliva flow. This will help wash away some of the food and neutralize acid.

      Artificial sweeteners are a good alternative to sugar. Most still cause some decay but are far better than sugar. I suggest Splenda as a safe alternative to sugar. Bacteria won’t feed on the Splenda but will to some degree produce acid from the dextrose that is added to the sweetener. The best option is Xylitol, a sweetener produced from birch bark that absolutely does not cause cavities. You can buy it from London Drugs or other drug stores in the diabetic sweetener section, marketed as “XyloSweet”.

      Cavity prevention is a long-term process that involves a life style change. It is difficult and requires discipline. Treat yourself from time to time and be practical but remain committed and proactive.

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