If you browse the Internet long enough, you’re going to come across some crazy cure for pretty much any condition you can name, including dental cavities. According to one website, for example, dentists have been pretty much lying to you about the reason why we get cavities. It’s not related to oral bacteria at all, it’s because we don’t get enough nutrition, and all you have to do is get a balanced diet.
A Kooky Explanation
On this rather poorly written website, you can see an irrational description of why bacteria don’t cause cavities. For example, indigenous people that ate fermentable carbohydrates didn’t get cavities. Although it’s true that many indigenous people didn’t experience tooth decay to the same degree we do, it’s not true that they never had cavities. And we can tell when changes in diet led to major cavities (as in the case of this paleolithic population), and it’s usually related to increased sugar.
Another part of their explanation is that milk, meats, and vegetables don’t cause cavities. This is flat-out-wrong, as you can see from the correlation between night-time feedings of babies and early cavities.
Finally, they make the bold claim that “Bacteria do not consume processed sugar or flour because of the lack of nutrients in them.” This is flat-out wrong, and it shows a basic misunderstanding of biology that discredits essentially everything else the page has to say. “Nutrients” includes calories, which living things (including bacteria) burn to provide energy for other metabolic processes. Claiming that bacteria don’t consume sugar is like saying that your Lamborghini doesn’t burn fuel. There are tons of examples that bacteria value sugar (such as the fact that sugar can induce bacteria to take in antibiotics).
Our Sugar Addiction
Sugar is the primary cause of cavities, and the reason why modern populations have so many cavities compared to our ancestors is that we consume so much more sugar than people in the past. It’s really very difficult to conceive how different our lifestyle is than theirs, but looking at this infographic from Forbes helps. Before the 1820s, Americans consumed only trace amounts of sugar, but by the early 20th century, sugar consumption skyrocketed, and, along with it, cavities.
It took dentistry decades to catch up, and, as a result generations born before 1945 have about a three times higher rate of tooth loss than those since then.
Diet can make a huge difference in the cavities you get, but it’s mostly because of your rate of sugar consumption. Eat less sugar and you will have fewer cavities, which means fewer fillings, crowns, and maybe even dental implants. When you eat sugar, rinse your mouth thoroughly.