You brush your teeth religiously, eat a reasonably healthy diet, you floss at least some of the time, and you regularly use a mouthwash. You use a fluoride based toothpaste. You are reasonably good at maintaining a regular schedule of dental appointments. In fact, you follow all the mainstream advice on dental care. However, when you get to the dentists, there is always some dental decay, always a filling or cavity that needs attention. When you do get a filling, it often needs a bigger filling, then a really large filling, followed by a crown and root canal. If the root canal fails, then the only thing left is an implant, a large gap in your gums, or some kind of bridge device.
You in turn get more and frustrated. You purchase bigger and more powerful sonic toothbrushes, bigger tubs of mouthwash, and start brushing your teeth after lunch at work. No joy. Nothing seems to work. You talk to your dentist, who just shrugs and says it happens.
What’s going on? Very simply, dental decay and gum disease is an infection, “an invasion by pathogenic microorganisms of a bodily part in which the conditions are favorable for growth, production of toxins, and resulting injury to tissue.” (Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary).
What are these microorganisms? Pathogens of bacterial, protozoan, viral or fungal origin have been implicated as causal factors in periodontal disease. One strain in particular has been identified called Streptococcus mutans. Streptococcus mutans, and Streptococcus Sobrinus are the bacteria that cause the majority of tooth decay and gum disease. Streptococcus mutans is a heterotrophic organism which simply means that it must live off of another organism by eating another organism or using them as a host. The human oral cavity is the host of S. mutans.
The bacteria feeds by metabolizing sucrose to lactic acid, causing a change in the p.h. to become acidic, and sticks to the tooth in the form of plaque. The combination of the plaque in an acid environment sticking onto the tooth and below into the gums causes the highly mineralized tooth enamel to break down until a small hole is created. Once the enamel has been penetrated, the Streptococcus mutans really get to work. It subsists on a diverse group of carbohydrates, and once in the cozy warm confines of your nce cozy tooth, starts to party like a rock star to cause the decay. Once plaque builds up under the gum, gum disease can set it causing the gums to loose their healthy pink glow, and causing pockets or gaps between the gum and the teeth.
Once the enamel is penetrated the tooth is wide open to infection. The bacteria can multiply, spread around the mouth, and constantly probe for new weak areas. So now we can begin to see what is happening in more detail.
Your dentists spots the onset of a cavity. The decay is removed and painstakingly drilled out. A perfect filing is placed for you, so well that you can’t even see the filling unless you look very closely. All is good. But of course even the most perfect dental work imaginable won’t stop the tiny bacteria from crawling in and having lunch.
The Streptococcus mutans bacteria are tiny – in fact they are just one 1 micron (one thousandth of a mm in diameter. In perspective, a human hair is 200 microns wide. The bacteria can easily crawl into the gum pockets, get inside your fillings, slip past your crown, and do their dirty work.
So now we now how the process of dental decay works, let’s look at what can we do to prevent it.
Let’s follow what happens with the standard dental advice.
We brush our teeth religiously. This will help reduce the plaque. The stronger the motor or more diligent the brusher the more plaque will be removed. We will hopefully get rid of any food deposits stuck between the teeth and generally make the environment clean and more hostile to the bacteria. But brushing won’t kill the bacteria. It won’t stop the problem.
So if you brushed 5 times a day for 5 minutes you are likely to cause gum problems through sheer friction alone, but you won’t affect your S. Mutans count one jot. Just to be clear here, brushing will help to disrupt the plaque and stop it sticking. An electronic toothbrush such as the SonicCare range may help to dislodge plaque from the gums and will certainly do a good job at breaking down the plaque. But the bacteria still live on to fight another day.
Of course we don’t just brush, we brush with toothpaste. The toothpaste is bound to include powerful microbial agents that will soon get to grips and destroy the harmful s. mutans bacteria. Well, no, actually. most of the toothpastes don’t have powerful microbial agents that kill off the s. mutans. They do however contain fluoride. Fluoride is the active ingredient in nearly every toothpaste, so fluoride must kill s. mutans. Well, again. Not quite. Fluoride was discovered by dentists who began to actively research the effects of Fluoride on dental decay before the discovery of the S. Mutans bacteria. Fluoride was first added to toothpaste in 1914, and were approved for use in America by the American Dental Association in the 1950s. Scientists did not begin looking at the affects of S. Mutans on dental disease until the 1960s, although S.Mutans was first discovered in 1924.
Some studies do show that fluoride nevertheless does helps to lower the S. Mutans count, which is good. However, other studies show that there are strains of S.Mutans which are completely unharmed by fluoride. If fluoride is so effective, why are you still getting those cavities?
Flossing does a good job of removing the plaque, and so it will undoubtedly help. As you scrape away the plaque you will be disrupting the bacteria. Its another great thing to do but again it won’t affect the bacteria count.
So, the mouthwash has to kill the germs and prevent the S. Mutans from getting out of control right? Well you’d think so, but think again. Most of the large commercial brands of mouthwash on sale contain alcohol, which you guessed it – the bacteria can feed on.
So now we can see how you can religiously follow all the latest dental advice, floss, eat balanced meals, brush twice and day, and still get cavities.
What does work to combat S. Mutans? Back to our biology.
Remember what happens when the bacteria feeds off the sucrose to create lactic acid. S. Mutans needs sugar and loves carbohydrates. S. Mutans needs an acid environment to thrive. So we need lots of bacteria, lot of sugar and the right acidic conditions. For optimal dental health we can take three basic steps.
First, reduce the amount of sugar in our diet, and reduce processed foods. This will stop the s.Mutans from feeding off the sucrose and creating the plaque.
We can also change the p.h of the mouth. particularly just after meals. Short of swishing your mouth with baking soda after every meal, this seems very hard in practice to do.
We can also identify agents which will kill S. Mutans. Although you can never entirely remove all the bacteria, by dramatically reducing the bacteria count and creating a hostile environment you will be able to stop the spread of the bacteria.
There are actually a great many things that you can do to effectively manage S.Mutans. It turns out there are actually lots of options out there for you. Remember that we are eliminating an infection which can re-colonize at any point. Stopping the dental regime will result in the bacteria re-growing. Re-colonization is extremely rapid. That is why dentists often say that they see the best improvement in those patients who have the self discipline and commitment to undertake a daily health care self help program.
One of the simplest and certainly cheapest solutions is to use sodium bicarbonate and Hydrogen Peroxide. The Sodium Bicarbonate and Hydrogen Peroxide: The Effect on the Growth of Streptococcus mutans.
The hydrogen peroxide, sodium bicarbonate, and the sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen peroxide combination prevented bacterial growth of S. mutans. The results show that products containing these agents have the ability to stop the growth of S. mutans. Products containing sodium bicarbonate and/or hydrogen peroxide may be useful to caries-prone patients. More studies are needed to confirm these results on patients.
Authors: Silhacek, Kelly J1; Taake, Kristin R1
Source: Journal of Dental Hygiene, Number 4, Fall 1st October 2005, pp. 7-7(1)
Publisher: American Dental Hygienists’ Association
The most effective way to use the mixture is in a dental irrigator. Just mix the hydrogen peroxide and calcium carbonate and drop the mixture into the bowl of the irrigation machine. You will then be squirting a powerful anti-microbial agent and changing the ph of the mouth helping to kill off the bacteria. You can also dip a toothbrush in the mixture and apply it directly. This is particularly helpful at night. Make up the mixture, brush the teeth and leave as much of the mixture on as you can tolerate and go to sleep. This will allow the microbial agents to work all night and change the p.h long enough to kill off lots of bad bacteria. Some people also mix in sea salt whose powerful antiseptic and bactericidal qualities help remove plaque. Make sure you carefully rinse the irrigator after use.
The bacteria need sugar and carbohydrates to feed from. Eliminating processed foods and ensuring that you have plenty of Vitamin C will greatly help to improve overall gum health.
Herbal Based Anti Microbial Mouthwashes:
You can also use a herbal agent in the dental irrigator. There are many herbal mouthwashes that are alcohol free that contain herbs like Echinacea, Green Tea and Olive Leaf, essential oils such as Peppermint, Clove, Oregano and Thyme, which are well known for their anti-bacterial properties.
You can buy baking soda and herbal pastes that will help to reduce the bacteria. Many people are also using toothsoap or even regular bar soap to brush their teeth. The soap again does a good job killing the bacteria.
Somewhat unexpectedly, licorice has been shown to be extremely good at reducing s. mutants. Only 15 milligrams of licorice powder eliminates 99.9 percent of Streptococcus mutans, according to research at UCLA.
Professional Dental Treatments:
You dentist will use Chlorhexidine or other suitable professional anti-microbial agent to reduce the number of s. mutant prior to and during treatments.