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Why Do I Keep Getting Cavities?  I Only Drink Diet Coke!

One of the biggest misconceptions in dental health is that, if you want to prevent cavities, you only need to worry about sugar.  Parents and other caregivers warn against the dangers of too much candy, so that the sugar-cavity link is ingrained in our brains forever.  It is true that sugar can lead to tooth decay.  The myth is that it is the only thing you need to worry about.  In fact, the cavity-causing process is multifaceted, which is why you can still get cavities when you drink sugar-free sodas.

What Causes Cavities

There are four factors necessary to form a cavity.  We will describe each one so that you can put them all together to understand how cavities develop.

  1. Tooth

We know this one may seem a little oversimplified, but it is actually really important to understand for the purpose of this topic.  All of the hard structures of a tooth are susceptible to decay.  The roots, which do not have a protective covering of enamel, are softer, weaker, and more likely to get cavities.  Enamel is very hard, but not impenetrable.  There are certain things we can do to either strengthen or weaken tooth enamel.

We strengthen enamel with a healthy diet and great oral hygiene.  We can add even more strength by applying fluoride as directed by the dentist.

Enamel’s kryptonite = Acid

  1. Bacteria

Cavities are actually an infectious disease caused by bacteria.  The way tiny bacteria can penetrate the hardest substance in the human body is through the production of acid.

Bacteria lives in dental plaque, which adheres to the teeth and gums.  When you do not clean the plaque from the teeth (forgetting to brush or skipping the floss), that bacteria remains in contact with the tooth, giving it a better chance of causing damage.

We can control the amount of bacteria on the teeth by practicing great oral hygiene and seeing the dental hygienist consistently for professional teeth cleanings.

  1. Sugar

Here’s the one we’re all familiar with.  Bacteria ingest (eat) sugar and give off acid as a by-product.  Sugar feeds the bacteria and increases the likelihood of cavities.  However, it’s not just sugar that bacteria can metabolize; it is any refined, or simple, carbohydrate.  So even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you can still get cavities by snacking on chips and crackers.

  1. Time

Cavities do not happen overnight.  It takes time for the bacteria in dental plaque to eat the sugar, and then produce enough acid to soften the enamel enough for the bacteria to penetrate.  For this reason, we do not recommend sipping or snacking on simple carbs for an extended period of time.  This is also the reason we recommend brushing twice daily and flossing every night.  Do not let the bacteria stay on your teeth long enough to do any damage.

How Diet Sodas Contribute to Cavities

Now that you know the cavity process, can you guess where the diet soda fits in?

Diet Coke and other diet sodas are extremely acidic, and constantly bathing your teeth in acid weakens the enamel.  By softening the enamel, you are lowering the threshold for the bacteria to start a cavity.  This means it is easier for the bacteria to cause cavities, and they can do it faster in an acidic environment.

Diet sodas do the most damage to teeth when someone sips them throughout the entire day.  This keeps the teeth in an acidic environment for hours at a time.  Without sugar, this acid can cause dangerous erosion of the enamel.  With sugar, it leads to a high cavity risk.

And remember, we don’t just mean sweets.  Those bacteria like chips and crackers, too.  Even healthy snacks like fruit have enough simple carbohydrate content to cause cavities on weakened teeth.

What You Can Do to Reduce Your Cavity Risk

There are many different health risks associated with high consumption of diet sodas, so you should consider quitting altogether.  However, if that is not an option for you, follow these steps to lower your cavity risk.

More Questions about What Causes Cavities?

Call Designer Smiles today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Ann and Dr. Lauren.  We can answer all of your questions about what causes cavities and assess your personal risk for cavities.