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Scott Stephens, DDS
A Great Dentist

What Causes Cavities?

January 19, 2021
Posted By: Lauren M.

Many of us have heard of our gut microbiome and the important role it plays in the health and balance of our everyday life, but did you know that our mouth has its own microbiome that has good and bad bacteria that can aid in the early stages of digestion or can cause cavities? Therefore, it is important to eat healthy foods, limit sugar intake, and brush your teeth twice a day.

The culprit of most tooth decay is the bacteria Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans). This bacterium is enclosed in a capsule which is created out of sugars that are available in the mouth. S. mutans use the sugar to build the capsule which then allows the bacteria to stick tightly to the enamel of the tooth. Once it has attached, S. mutans keep using sugar to create lactic acid which then eats away at the enamel and is what causes caries (tooth decay).

These bacteria like to make their home in the deep pits and fissures of our teeth, which is why it can be important to make sure you or your children get sealants placed to fight the chance of decay occurring. Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is considered the most prevalent chronic disease in children between birth and six years of age by the American Dental Association. This problem can cause pain or unnecessary stress for children while also affecting their overall health.

In adults, tooth decay can lead to infection as well as an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. According to a study published by Harvard Health, people who have poor oral health have higher rates of cardiovascular disease. A different bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivalis, causes gum disease and infection where it can eventually enter your bloodstream. Once it enters, P. gingivalis can cause blood vessel inflammation, damage, and tiny blood clots which can lead to future problems like a heart attack or stroke.

Untreated dental caries or gum disease can lead to numerous health problems, infections throughout the mouth and body, and in the most extreme circumstances – death. This is why it is so important to understand what is happening in our mouths and know the best way to take care of any issues. First, be sure to brush and floss twice a day. Brushing with an electric toothbrush helps with setting a good amount of pressure and the constant motion helps knock off attached S. mutans. We highly recommend the Oral-B Genius Brush by Crest and Oral B.

Flossing between your teeth allows for the cleaning motion to get hard-to-reach places. Also, consider investing in a water pick! There are tons to choose from, the pressure of the water is adjustable, and the pick can be positioned to get in those deep pits and fissures and wash out bacteria. We also suggest following a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats while limiting carbohydrate and sugar-heavy snacks or meals. This will help kill S. mutans since they will not have sugar to feed off to multiply and attach.

And, of course, keep up with your regular dental visits. Your dentist and hygienist are trained to spot the early formation of tooth decay. They may recommend you get a filling or in more extreme circumstances, a crown for the affected tooth. If you are experiencing extreme pain or discomfort in a tooth, it could mean that the decay has reached the soft dentin under your enamel which can cause pain, swelling, and infection if not treated. Please reach out and contact your preferred dental provider to schedule an appointment if you are experiencing these symptoms.



Works Cited

Batty, G David, et al. “Oral Health and Later Coronary Heart Disease: Cohort Study of One Million People.” European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, vol. 25, no. 6, 2018, pp. 598–605., doi:10.1177/2047487318759112.

“Capsules and Slime Layers.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

Loesche WJ. Microbiology of Dental Decay and Periodontal Disease. In: Baron S, editor. Medical Microbiology. 4th edition. Galveston (TX): University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; 1996. Chapter 99. Available from:

Shmerling, Robert H. “Gum Disease and the Connection to Heart Disease.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, Apr. 2018,

“Streptococcus Mutans: Where And How To Confront It.” Oral Health and Dental Care,

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