by: Lisa Stillman, RDH, BS

Tooth decay is an infection caused by certain bacteria. Infections can be passed from person to person through contact. The bacteria that cause cavities, Streptococcus mutans, are first introduced into the mouth from well-intended mothers and caregivers that have a high amount of Strep. mutans in their saliva and kiss, share food or utensils, and clean the child’s pacifier with their own mouth.

The transmission of bacteria from mother to child can be healthy and is an important process for all babies. Mothers pass much needed antibodies and good bacteria to their babies, all of which can protect teeth and break down food. But if they also have a high Strep. mutans count, unfortunately that will get passed to the baby as well.

Cavity Formation Process

The mouth infected with a high Strep. mutans count becomes a place where teeth are vulnerable for tooth decay. Cavities form because of the bacteria’s desire to flourish. Here’s how that process works:

  • Step One: To flourish, these bacteria need an acidic environment (low pH), foods to eat, and a surface that does not get cleaned regularly.
  • Step Two: Strep. mutans produce acids after ingesting and digesting the remnants of food that are eaten by the person.
  • Step Three: These acids help the bacteria stick to the teeth and creates a sticky substance we call plaque.
  • Step Four: This plaque protects the bacteria and allows them to have a safe place to grow.
  • Step Five: The acids produced by the Strepmutans soften the outer layer of the tooth (enamel) and continues the cycle until a hole is developed through the hardest layer and into the softer tooth structure. This also gives the bacteria a safe haven to live and grow.
  • Step Six: This growth of this bacteria travels from tooth to tooth and continues the destruction until it is interrupted by tooth brushing, cleaning between the teeth, making the environment less acidic (raising the pH), and lowering the Strep. mutans count.
Intervention of the Cavity Cycle:

Dentists and dental hygienists encourage their patients to use electric tooth brushes, water piks, dental floss, and interdental cleaners to remove this sticky plaque from their teeth. Another way to keep teeth clean and change the cycle of tooth decay is to add chewing gum, mints, and other oral care products sweetened with xylitol to the daily oral care habits.  Xylitol addresses the cause of cavities and can change an unhealthy bacterial count to a healthy one that supports healthy teeth naturally. Xylitol stops the production of these Strep. mutans in their tracks, reduces acidity, and helps the body wash the bacteria’s stickiness away—all of this just from chewing the right gum or using the right mint. Without the Strep. mutans  the good bacteria can flourish.

So, if you or your child is suffering from tooth decay, reach for Spry Gum and Spry Mints. Get the whole family to use them throughout the day to combat the modern diet.  This will change the oral environment from cavity-causing to cavity prevention and ensure that everyone has a happy and healthy smile.

Cavities Are Contagious!
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