Tooth decay is a process, going by the ecological plaque hypothesis now, where we considered dental plaque as a biofilm. A biofilm is an organized, diverse, multi-species microbial community in a polymer matrix. What does all that mean?
Well, free-floating germs are not dangerous for us. It’s the ones that get organized in a community; they’re working together, they’re protecting each other, they’re adding their acids together, they’re making an area more acidic, they’re driving out the other germs…the other bacteria, multi-species. We have over 600 identified bacterial species in the mouth, but only a couple dozen that are potentially harmful for us. It’s those particular acid germs that get organized that can be a problem.
Bacteria are competing for space on teeth. Acidic conditions favor harmful bacterial communities. The more acid they are getting, the more they are out competing the other bacterial species. That’s why they look for these sheltered little areas where they can hide. But the acid germs, the Strep Mutans and other types of acid forming bacteria, acid germs they process the sugars very efficiently. They process sugar and make acid. And the more acid they make, the more it favors their own selection. It’s a vicious cycle. The more acid the more acid germs, the more acid germs the more acid, and they keep forming their own protected community.
The acid germs we are talking about, they are hiding in the little niche areas. They have no respect for you whatsoever. To them you are just a piece of meat and if you give them half a chance they will eat you alive.
But fortunately, it’s not all bad. We also have protective factors. There’s damaging and protective factors in a sort of dynamic flux, in a balance. We want to favor the protective re-mineralization over the destructive de-mineralization factors. This is where using xylitol comes into play. Using xylitol products may reduce the risk of tooth decay and stop some bacteria in its tracks.
Some risk factors for tooth decay:
- Acidic environment (low pH)
- Sweetened medicines
- Bottles and Sippy Cups with milk or sugary liquids (even fruit juice)
- Braces and Dental Hardware
- Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
- Exposed Root Surfaces
- Frequent between-meal snacks of fermentable carbohydrates (sugars/starch)
Size matters, but not as much as the frequency and timing of the sugar consumption. Watch out for hidden sugars in products. Remember there are 4 grams in each teaspoon of sugar. Replacing sugar with xylitol will not only save empty calories, but it may help reduce the risk of tooth decay.