Tooth Decay is Not Okay

Barbara Tritz
· March 31, 2014 ·

5 minutes


At least, it’s not okay with me.

Did you know that tooth decay is 100% preventable?  Aren’t you tired of getting cavities, and fillings or crowns?  Are you ready to stop having cavities and make decay NOT okay with you, too?   Let’s explore tooth decay, prevention of tooth decay, and reversing tooth decay.

Last fall (2013) I took a 6-week intensive Continuing Education class through Coursera from Dr. John Featherstone and the University of California San Francisco.  Dr. Featherstone is a leading researcher on tooth decay and tooth decay prevention.  Much of this information is from that course.

Tooth decay is caused by numerous different bacteria that we acquire from other people- as an adult it’s mostly your significant other, and as a child it’s mostly Mom and Dad.  When we are born, our mouths are sterile. Recent research shows that even babies whose teeth have not yet erupted can acquire these bacteria through saliva to saliva contact- dad blows on the pacifier, mom tests the temperature of baby’s food with the same spoon, baby puts her hands in mom’s mouth and back in her own, or the classic example- kissing.  There are good bacteria, but if mom and dad have tooth decay, then baby will contract their tooth decay bacteria.  Then, baby grows up and has  tooth decay.


Like all organisms, tooth decay bacteria have a dream home. They live in the plaque on your teeth.  Dental professionals call this “biofilm”. It’s like a microscopic NYC living on your teeth and under your gums.  There the bacteria find carbohydrates for food, a moist, acidic, undisturbed environment, and teeth.  The bacteria take in the carbs-apple juice, crackers, bagels, whatever- and poop acid onto your teeth.  The acid takes the minerals out of your teeth, starting the demineralization/decay process.  Decay bacteria love an acidic environment.  The longer your mouth is acidic, whether from soda, diet soda, bottled flavored water, energy drinks, or even mouth wash, the longer the bacteria have to work.  Your saliva is the hero, putting minerals back into your teeth, which reverses this process, and makes your mouth less acidic.  If you have a dry mouth,  then there is little to no saliva to repair and remineralize your teeth, and decay happens even faster. (We will talk more about saliva and dry mouth in future posts.)

The first sign of tooth decay we can see is called a “white spot lesion”.  These are often along the gumline or between your teeth (nobody likes to floss), where it is easiest for the bacteria to live undisturbed.   In the early stages of decay, if you do start to floss or improve your brushing, you can remove the plaque, which allows your saliva to remineralize your teeth, and your body can heal itself, reversing the tooth decay.

If you allow the white spot lesion to progress, it will cavitate, or form the dreaded cavity.  If you have one cavity, that means the decay bacteria are in your mouth, and there is a 63.9-88% chance you will have another new cavity within one year.

Drilling and filling does not kill the bacteria.  They are still in your mouth, waiting, lurking…

In order to stop the decay process, you need to reduce the bacteria numbers.  My husband suggests you think of a termite colony.  The more bacteria/bugs you have, the more organized they get, and the more destructive they are.  You have to kill them, remove their home and their food source.  Then you can put minerals back into your teeth and start reversing cavitation and healing your teeth. Yes, heal your teeth!

Oral Hygiene Instructions to Prevent and Reverse Tooth Decay:

#1. Brushing for at least 2 minutes, twice a day (do I really need to tell you that?) with an electric toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste is a good first step.  Spit, but do not rinse the fluoride off your teeth.

#2. If you have a manual tooth brush- dry brush until your teeth feel clean, which could take a while, then brush with toothpaste.  Spit, but don’t rinse- let the fluoride sit on your teeth.

A Waterpik water irrigator is one option

#3. Cleaning in-between daily.  How? I’m glad you asked.  If you’re a flosser, go for it.  If not, try a water irrigator or proxybrush, both of which you can find in your favorite drugstore.  Other alternatives: floss-on-a-stick, Gum Chucks (TM), Stim-u-dents(TM), toothpicks (not just for show), anything that disrupts the plaque/bacterial biofilm between your teeth.  No, a toothbrush can’t get in there. Tooth brushing only cleans the flat surfaces of your teeth.

#4. My favorite home care tool is a tongue scraper.  De-plaque your tongue twice daily, in the morning and before bed.  You’ll be amazed at how much cleaner your mouth feels afterwards.

#5. For people without cavities I recommend ACT Original Mouthwash (TM) daily.  It is a good preventative step because it has a neutral pH (many other mouthwashes do not), contains fluoride, and it’s readily available at your favorite drugstore.  Also at your local drugstore is Arm and Hammer Complete Care Toothpaste with Enamel Strengthening (TM) with contains calcium and phosphate, which can help to remineralize teeth.

#6. For people who do have tooth decay, I go with Carifree products (TM), which you can order through your dentist or online from  They make a great series of products for disinfecting the mouth- gargle and swish twice daily to get all the nooks and crannies disinfected, as well as products to reverse and prevent tooth decay.

#7. To everyone, I recommend fluoride.  Fluoride makes teeth harder and more resistant to the acid left by the bacteria (their poop, remember?).   Everything in moderation, at the correct level for your particular needs.  More on fluoride in a future post.

#8. I love xylitol, which will also get its own post another day. It’s a “good” sugar and, simply put, it kills the bacteria that causes tooth decay.   Strive for five servings, five times a day for five minutes. It tastes great,  just keep it away from your pets!

#9. Next, we need to talk about diet.  Tooth decay needs carbohydrates.  The decay bacteria do not distinguish between good carbs (like potatoes), and your daily soda pop.  Stop feeding your decay bacteria.  People who snack are more likely to have more tooth decay.  If you must snack, please rinse after eating.

Finally, your dental team, including your favorite dental hygienist, can and should be assessing your risk for future decay.  There are ways to measure your level of decay bacteria, look at your frequency of snacking, your dry mouth potential,  as well as analyze what other factors may be contributing to decay.  Talk with them.  If they are not thinking prevention, I know a great dental team that does 😉

The Queen of Hygiene’s Dental Pearls of Wisdom:

Tooth decay in contagious, tooth to tooth and person to person.
      Tooth decay is preventable.
      Early tooth decay is reversible.
      Your dental team can help you find out why you keep getting new cavities.
      Work with your dental hygienist to find the best tools for you.
      Practice prevention- it’s better than amputating your tooth!
      Tooth decay needs to be extinct!
There’s so much more to say on this topic.  Stay tuned for  more information on tooth decay, dry mouth, xylitol, and as well as many other topics.  Please let me know if you have questions, I’d love to hear from you.  Until next week-

“Non Sequitur” from Pinterest

Keep Smiling,


Hello, I'm Barbara Tritz

Unveiling the Stories Behind Dental Hygiene

Loving science, especially biology, from an early age, Barbara is a registered dental hygienist, certified biological hygienist, and orofacial myofunctional therapist. In 2019, she received the Hu-Friedy/ADHA Master Clinician Award from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

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