Acid Attack and the Reality of Tooth Decay

Michael A. Conrad Dentist Allentown, PA

Dr. Michael Conrad is a Dentist practicing in Wescosville, Pennsylvania. Dr. Conrad specializes in preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases and conditions associated with the mouth and overall dental health. Dentists are trained to carry out such treatment as professional cleaning, restorative, prosthodontic, and... more

Teeth have one great weakness: acid. It eats away tooth structure. Where does acid come from? Our diets. Acidic foods and drinks directly affect and dissolve tooth enamel. These foods include citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, and the biggest culprit: carbonated drinks.  

Our diets produce acid through interaction with the bacteria in our mouths. Be it candy, sweetened drinks, chips, or French fries, any starch or sugar that remains in the mouth for a short time will feed the bacteria that are always present and promote their growth. They live in colonies on our teeth in dental plaque, and after digesting starch or sugar, produce acid as a result. That acid, on a microscopic level, is the source of tooth decay. It sucks the calcium from the enamel, leaving a softer substance that allows further penetration of the bacteria. Eventually the attack will pass through the enamel into the dentin, which itself is not as hard, and finally into the pulp of the tooth, damaging, infecting, and ultimately killing the nerves and blood vessels inside a live tooth. This usually causes pain for the patient.  

Years ago, before tooth decay was fully understood, patients were told that they had “soft teeth” that “ran in the family.” We know better now and though there is a rare medical condition that does in fact involve soft teeth and bones, the reality is that soft teeth are decayed teeth. It “runs in families” simply because most families eat and drink the same things and take care of their teeth the same way--with the same results. When someone is told that it is a family trait, it takes all responsibility away from that person, and gives the idea that nothing can be done. “That’s just the way it is.”--but something can be done. 

We can alter this decay process in three ways: Prevent, Remove, and Protect. We prevent decay by limiting foods that are acidic or create acid in the mouth. We remove the offending materials and bacteria by proper brushing and flossing, and we protect teeth with Fluoride and acrylic sealants.