We begin this week’s Children’s Dentistry blog with drinks of fresh cold water and a reference to a popular movie: Jurassic Park. After viewing the movements and habits of a flock of voracious, egg-laying, flying, prehistoric monsters, the dinosaur expert says, “I’ll bet you never look at birds the same way again.” Most certainly, many movie-watchers don’t see birds OR dinosaurs in quite the same way as they did before that film.
Likewise, it has been our experience that, after a little research into tooth decay, many families who visit Dr. Troy King, pediatric dentist, never see sweet drinks, cola, or juice in quite the same way again.
A Mini-Primer on Sugary Drinks and Tooth Decay
Let’s take a look at an anagram we made just for our own memory’s sake: D.E.C.A.Y. Each letter of this terrible word means something special to the tooth that gets a cavity.
Our “D” doesn’t stand for dinosaur, but for something just as monstrous. As you might have guessed from the comment above, the “D” in D.E.C.A.Y. stands for drinks, specifically sugary, acidic drinks.
According to the brochure of the Drinks Destroy Teeth program, sports drinks, energy drinks, juice boxes and fizzy drinks “are leading to unprecedented levels of decay and loss of tooth enamel (dental erosion) for a new generation of youth and young adults.”
Dental experts have informed us that drinks like lemonade, cola and yes, even so-called “healthy” juice, are essentially “liquid candy, which easily pools between and around the teeth.”
The longer the little pools and rivulets are replenished with sugar, the more the bacteria grows, and the more the tooth decays.
Decay: The Dangerous Role Liquid Sugar Plays
As the sugar swirls around a tooth, bacteria use it to build up plaque. The plaque forms holes in the helpless tooth and the holes widen into cavities.
Likewise, a syrupy orange drink or a sticky soda is exactly what mutated strains of Streptococcus like to eat. As the bacteria “digests the sugar, it produces acid that eats the enamel of your teeth and causes cavities.”
Decay and Erosion
Speaking of enamel, “E” is for erosion. Dental erosion cannot be explained without understanding that every tooth has a hard protective shell. The smooth, hard layer is termed “enamel.” You probably know about enamel, but did you know that the problem of the dental erosion of that enamel has become almost epidemic?
“Erosion is the chemical loss of enamel due to acid.”
You might have guessed that the source of this particularly mean and modern phenomenon is acid from soft drinks, sports drinks, and juices.
We are not discounting other causes like acid reflux or certain diseases, or a few acidic foods. We are simply concerned today with the largest cause of dental erosion, and that is sugary sweet drinks.
Decay, Erosion and Counting the Minutes
“C” is for Counting. We want people to learn to count the quantity of time sugar and acid are allowed to linger in the mouth. Minutes? Hours? When it comes to acidic and sugary drinks, experts have told us, “Sipping small amounts over time leads to cumulative destruction. The longer it takes to drink a sugar laden, acidic drink, the greater the damage.”
Decay, Erosion, Counting and Acid
“A,” as you might have guessed, stands for “acidic.” So, just how acidic are your seemingly harmless diet sodas or your favorite sports drink? Let’s check some pH levels and see.
Remember the pH scale is how we measure the acidity or alkalinity of a liquid. Water is a neutral pH, number 7. Now, no one would drink battery acid, so it let’s put it at the rock bottom of the scale with a 1, simply as a frame of reference. We know it is not a drink!
Here is the point: The lower the pH, the stronger the acid. If battery acid ranks number one, would you drink something that ranks 2.4? —That seems awfully close to the battery acid number, doesn’t it?
Yet, unless you are aware of some tooth decay statistics, you have probably thought nothing of drinking a particular brand of Cola that measures 2.4.
One good brand of orange juice sits at 3.8, which is not battery acid, but it is not the perfect 7 of water, and it gains potency if it stays on tiny teeth all night.
It’s no secret that “caries,” (tooth decay) is epidemic, as is “Early Childhood Caries.” ECC is presently the most common disease faced by children and pediatric dentists are treating more and more numerous cases of it.
D.E.C.A.Y. Means Drinks, Dental Erosion, Counting Sugar Minutes, Acid, and You!
At Children’s Dentistry, we believe children need to learn that when the body asks for hydration, it is not really asking for a concoction that is so strong it can eat the enamel right off a tooth.
The “Y” in D.E.C.A.Y. stands for “you.” As parents of our young patients, you are in the position to be their greatest role models.
With your examples of good oral hygiene, healthy diet, and regular dental visits, we can destroy ECC and defeat the powers of D.E.C.A.Y., one family at a time.