Stop The Teeth-Eating Bacteria!

By Howard J. Bennett

Mornings used to be pretty hectic in the Bennett household. Kids had to be woken up. Dogs had to be let out. Breakfast had to be eaten. And last but not least, teeth had to be brushed. Getting all of this done with two kids, three dogs and only two parents was very tricky. But somehow we managed. And now that our kids are older, things have gotten a lot easier.

Today we’re going to focus on one of the most annoying things parents ask you to do—brush your teeth. Although it only takes a couple of minutes twice a day, brushing your teeth is an awful, rotten, unfair, boring, ridiculous waste of time! Just kidding. Brushing your teeth is an important part of personal hygiene that even animals take care of—at least the ones that have teeth.

Animals don’t use toothbrushes, of course, but they chew and gnaw on objects in order to keep their teeth clean.

The main thing that separates humans from animals in the dental realm is sugar. If we didn’t have sugar in our diet, we’d get much less tooth decay. Why? Because sugar is the enemy of healthy teeth. Here’s why.

Our bodies are filled with bacteria. Most of these microscopic organisms are harmless. However, as far as teeth are concerned, the story is a little different. Like larger animals (us, for example) bacteria produce waste products after they consume (eat) nutrients. Among the waste products produced by mouth bacteria are acids that can damage tooth enamel. (Enamel is an extremely strong material that makes up the outside of your teeth.) These acids are too mild for you to feel, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Because the bacteria in your mouth love “sweets,” they will gorge themselves on any sugar that coats your teeth. The acids they leave behind create pits in your enamel like a prospector digging for gold. Once tiny pits have formed in the tooth enamel, additional acids make them deeper and deeper. Eventually, bacteria invade the inside of the tooth causing decay. In reality, tooth decay is like having an infection in your teeth.

You do not have to eat candy to have sugar in your mouth. Bread and other starchy foods are digested (broken down) into a type of sugar by saliva. These sugars are just as appealing to mouth bacteria as a bag of M&Ms. (If you chew a cracker and keep it in your mouth for a moment before swallowing it, you will notice that it’s a little sweet. This proves that saliva turns starch into sugar.)

So go ahead and brush your teeth. The time you waste having to do this horrible chore will be made back with easier dental visits, whiter teeth and less annoying parents.

© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

(First published in the Washington Post 11/26/12.)
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