What are your food and drink habits? Do you slowly sip a cup of coffee, with a bit of sugar, each morning? Do you have a weakness for, say, a juice or some coconut water as an afternoon pick-me-up? Each of these things alone probably doesn’t feel like a very big deal. After all, you’re just having a little sugar for a little while. But as a dentist, I also know those moments can connect to some bigger issues.
Cervical caries are severe cavities that appear at the gum line, especially on the front teeth. The cause is the sugar in beverages, whether they be coffee, soft drinks, sports drinks, juice, or anything else with sugar content. I’m not advocating foregoing your morning, afternoon or whatever beverage—the problem is when these beverages are sipped over a long period of time.
To understand why, let’s first discuss cavities (a pretty exciting topic for dentists).
Plaque is a layer of goop that collects on our teeth over time. Any buildup that sticks around on our teeth after brushing (or when we don’t brush at all) will turn into plaque once it mixes with bacteria, which is always present in our mouths to some degree. Things get tricky when we consume sugars or refined carbohydrates. Bacteria in plaque love to feed on simple calories, and as they do, acid is created as a byproduct. That acid is now sitting on your teeth! It causes the teeth to deteriorate and develop holes known as cavities. Even worse, bacteria eat sugars for longer than we do and therefore deposit this acid for a longer period of time after we’ve finished eating.
Now that the science lesson is done, let’s get back to our coffee with sugar or juice example. Working at a computer all day, coffee or other beverage at hand, it’s easy to choose to just sip all morning or day while working. If there’s sugar in the drink, we’re essentially giving our teeth a sugar bath all morning long. And as we just learned, the bacteria eat the sugar, produce acid over many areas and voila, cavities.
There are a few approaches:
The easy answer is don’t sip for long periods of time. Avoid sweet binges that last for a long time. Taking an hour with something sugary creates a feast for the bacteria in your mouth. Although there’s no specific prescribed time that you should spend on a sweetened drink, the more condensed the time, the less exposure your teeth will have to sugar and the subsequent acids.
Also, try to brush your teeth after consuming refined carbohydrate treats. This helps remove the sugars from the surface of your teeth so those bacteria critters won’t be able to continue their feast (and this, in turn, the production of the acid).
Another easy fix is to look for xylitol as your sweetener. Xylitol may cause some people to have upset stomachs or other related side effects, but if it doesn’t bother you, xylitol doesn’t produce the sugars that the bacteria in plaque like to consume. Xylitol also helps to decrease cavities and dry mouth (which can contribute to cervical caries).
Lastly, if you do have trouble with sweet consumption and cervical caries, talk to your dentist. They may be able to prescribe a toothpaste that will help or suggest remedies.
The things in your diet affect your teeth— including the liquids you drink. With some changes to how you consume them, you can keep the cavities away!
Dr. Rosenbaum’s dental practice has been awarded many honors including being named a “Top Dentist” by Washingtonian Magazine, one of “America’s Top Dentists” by the Consumer Research Council of America and one of Washington’s “Top Dentists” by the Washington Consumers Checkbook. Now retired after 40 years of practicing dentistry, Dr. Rosenbaum has also worked on the faculty of Howard University School of Dentistry, and was a member of the American Dental Association, the District of Columbia Dental Society, and the Washington Dental Study Club. For over fifteen years, he was president of the Washington Dental Study Club, a continuing education forum dedicated to broadening the members’ knowledge of the latest techniques and procedures in dentistry.