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Why Do I Get Cavities Even though I Brush? – Part I

Posted on September 15th, 2021 by Dr. Nikoo Daftary

If you’re like many people, you practice good oral hygiene but still find it impossible to avoid cavities. You may brush twice a day, floss, use mouthwash, visit the dentist, and eat a diet low in sugar, yet none of it seems to be enough.

You may be wondering why you get cavities despite your good habits. The answer to this cavity conundrum lies in the history of our human ancestors, the way our diets have changed, and ultimately, the tiny universe of bacteria that make a home inside our mouths.

History of Our Teeth

It may surprise you to know that ancient humans rarely developed cavities. It’s uncommon for an archeologist to find a skull with any form of tooth decay, even across vast geographies. Tooth decay only started making an appearance when humans shifted to a life of farming.

Farm life changed our diets dramatically. Instead of eating solely what we foraged and hunted, we began adding carb-based foods to our plates. This shift negatively affected our teeth and only grew worse with the introduction of sugar and refined flours in the 1800s.

Astonishingly, scientists have recently been able to sequence the DNA found in the plaque of our ancient ancestors, and they discovered something else was changing alongside our dietary habits—the bacteria in our mouths.

The Microbiomes in Our Mouths

While ancient humans developed plaque just like we do now, the bacteria inside their mouths differed greatly from the bacteria we have today. One major difference involves the diversity of bacteria from person to person. Modern humans have significantly less diverse bacteria in the microbiomes of their mouths. Of the bacteria present, a strain called streptococcus mutans dominates.

Streptococcus mutans is a strain of bacteria that readily feeds on the pieces of carbs and sugar that stick to your teeth. Streptococcus mutans then ferments those food pieces to create a natural acid that can eat away at the enamel of your teeth. Streptococcus mutans is not the only cavity-causing bacteria out there, but it is one of the most common strains that roams the mouths of humans.

While this type of bacteria strain is common, not everyone has the same oral microbiome. Some people have fewer acid-producing bacteria strains than others. Research hasn’t shown that these bacteria strains definitively cause cavities, but there is a high correlation between having this bacteria and frequently developing cavities. That being said, scientists are starting to think that the microbiomes of our mouths may directly affect our risk of getting cavities.

Are Cavities Contagious?

So what causes some people to have more cavity-causing bacteria than others? Research points to both our diets and our caregivers. While it’s still important to brush and floss regularly, science has shown that parents that have cavities are more likely to have children that develop cavities. In other words, cavities can be passed to others like a disease.

While it’s not totally certain why this is the case, research points to a similarity in bacteria between caregiver and child. Many scientists think that if you could change the microbiome of your mouth, you could reduce your chances of contracting cavities.

Changing Your Mouth’s Microbiome Part II

Watch for the second installment of this blog to learn about the science behind changing your mouth’s microbiome, and ultimately your risk for developing cavities.

While you wait, don’t neglect your oral health! Contact the experts at Art of Modern Dentistry in Chicago. Our dentists offer the best teeth cleanings, cosmetic dentistry, and restorations in the Chicagoland area. Our dental services are designed with our patients’ comfort in mind, so don’t hesitate to call.

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