The short answer is yes. Of course, the answer is a little more complicated than that, and the point of this article is not to bad-mouth apples. But I won't spoil the ending just yet. In order to answer this question, I will have to explain the role salivary flow plays in your oral health.
How Can Saliva Prevent Cavities?
To answer this question, I am going to jump to another topic again and talk about how bacteria cause cavities. I know it sounds like I am jumping from one topic to another; from apples to candies, to saliva, to oral bacteria, but keep reading, and trust me, it will all make sense in the end.
The mouth is colonized by about 300 different strands of oral bacteria, and many can cause tooth decay, but the most common ones are anaerobic and aciduric organisms such as Streptococcus mutans, which are the main cause of cavities.
Anaerobic bacteria are micro-organisms that do not like oxygen and aciduric means they can tolerate acidic environments. In fact, S. mutans functions and thrives better in an acidic environment. These bacteria survive on you guessed it, sugar. They process fermentable sugar for energy, and as a byproduct, they produce acids. This acid stays inside the plaque colony where the bacteria live, and it erodes the crystal structure of the enamel, therefore, making it softer and easy to penetrate by the bacteria. This is how the bacteria is able to create a hole (a cavity) in the otherwise strong crystal structure of the enamel.
Saliva is perhaps the mouth’s most aggressive defense against cavity-causing bacteria in two major ways,
The saliva literally washes off food particles and liquids, therefore, reducing the access to nutrition for the bacteria. This not only retards the growth and reproduction of bacteria but also slows the harmful activities of existing bacteria.
The saliva has buffers and neutralizing agents, and it is a weak base, which helps neutralize the acid in the mouth, and by doing so, it cripples the bacteria.
This is why any patient with dry mouth(xerostomia) is at high risk for tooth decay. As a general dentist in Brooklyn, I have seen the devastation and havoc dry mouth can create on your teeth firsthand. We will discuss xerostomia in future articles in granular detail.
Even though saliva can come to the rescue after each meal, it does take some time for it to neutralize the post-meal acidic environment of the mouth. Every time you eat food or drink sugary drinks, the pH of your mouth drops, which means your mouth becomes acidic, and it stays that way for about 30 to 45 minutes until it is neutralized again.
Is Candy Worse than Apple in Causing Cavities?
Now we are ready to tackle this question. In terms of its nutritional value, apple is clearly the winner. Apples have natural sugars (glucose), but candies are made up of a lot of syrupy processed sugars (fructose) and who knows what else. On top of that, candies have a hard structure that could chip or break teeth when chewing them. It is also very sticky, and it can pull off tooth fillings and crowns. But that is another story. We want to focus on the effects of both when it comes to causing cavities and nothing else.
As you can imagine, oral bacteria do not need a lot of sugar to create havoc on your teeth. Candies and apples both have sugars that organisms can use and thrive on. The fact that candies have a lot more sugar is not really relevant. Even a little sugar is enough for them.
How Can You Prevent Cavities with Diet?
Seeing as most foods and drinks have enough sugar in them to cause tooth cavities, the question is, can you do something about it? If this is true, is getting cavities not inevitable? This brings us to the not-so-subtle takeaway of this article.
It is well-documented that most types of soda and sugary drinks, especially sports drinks and bottled juice, have a considerable amount of strong acids in them. For a whole host of reasons, these drinks are to be avoided if possible. When it comes to foods and drinks that do not contain harmful acids, however, the key is not the amount or the quality of the food, but it is the frequency of ingestion of them. As we discussed earlier, any time you eat or drink, your mouth stays acidic for about 30 to 45 minutes. If you eat three meals a day, and nothing in between, bacteria has three short windows of opportunity to attack your teeth. But if you eat something, even a small amount, once an hour, your mouth will be acidic for the most part of the day, which means bacteria are at work around the clock, and your poor teeth stand very little chance.
So the takeaway from this article should be this. Try to avoid sodas, sports drinks, and store-bought juice if at all possible. Do eat healthy foods like apples and other fruits. Do eat candy and chocolate that is not hard on your teeth in moderation, and if you do so, do it right after a meal, but whatever you do, please try to avoid snacking too often between meals. That is doubly true for children and those at high risk for cavities.
If you have specific questions about your diet, please email us or contact me. Remember, If you have not seen a dentist in the last six months, it is time for your routine checkup appointment. I look forward to seeing you in our office soon.