Since you were a kind, you’ve heard that cavities, tooth decay, and even gum disease, happens when your diet is high in sugar and you forget to brush your teeth. Probably, this prompted your parents to firmly remind you right before bedtime to brush your teeth or, if you’re a parent now yourself, to firmly your kids. This story, however, is incomplete. While it is true that brushing and flossing protects your mouth from tooth decay, and that those with a diet high in sugar are more likely to develop cavities, the whole picture is much more complicated — and interesting!

Inside your mouth at any given time are nearly 8 billion bacteria. Most of them have an important job to do. They help to keep other bacteria from moving in unannounced. They help to pre-digest proteins, fats, and acids. They do a bunch of things we haven’t discovered yet. Some bacteria, though useful, can become troublesome in the right circumstances. Streptococcus mutans help process sugars and simple carbs, but when given too many, they can quickly overpopulate, and form bioflim — also known as plaque — on the surfaces of teeth. This bioflim takes in sugars and converts them into acid, which then decalcifies teeth causing cavities.

While Streptococcus mutans generally receive the brunt of the blame, scientist have known for some time that other harmful bacteria are involved in this process which can accelerate tooth decay in some people. Very little was known about this bacteria until a team of bioengineers at the University of Illinois successfully sequenced the complete genome of three strains of Streptococcus sobrinus.

Little girl whispering to her Grandmother. Is it a secret about tooth decay and oral bacteria?

Discovering the Rare Bacteria, and Other Questions

According to the research project lead, Assistant Professor Paul Jensen, the particular bacteria is difficult to work with and isn’t present in all people. Though the bacteria is rare, it produces acid more quickly that Streptococcus mutans, and is generally associated with cases of prominent tooth decay. If the bacteria is present in your mouth, Dr. Jensen argues, you’re at a much greater risk than others, but there is still information missing on why. While S. mutans have what’s called, “quorum sensing,” a process that allows them to detect other bacteria in the area, calling other S. mutans to their aid before attacking the teeth, S. sobrinus lacks the known architecture to do this. More work will have to be done in order to come to a better understanding.

Protecting Your Mouth

If you’re hoping to protect your mouth from harmful bacteria, there are three main steps to take. The first two have to do with dental hygiene habits. Brushing twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed, can protect your mouth from decay by eliminating food sources from bacteria. The same goes for flossing once a day. The third thing you can do to protect your mouth is regular visits to your local dentist for a checkup and cleaning.

This can ensure that if problems are developing in your mouth, you can take care of them before they become serious.

If you are overdue for a general dentistry check-up or have a dental need, please call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, South Carolina today for an appointment.