A: Tooth decay happens when bacteria that are normally present in your mouth convert the food you eat into acid. The bacteria and acids combine with leftover food and saliva and form a sticky substance called plaque, which adheres to your teeth. Plaque begins to accumulate on your teeth in minutes after you’ve eaten. If it’s not removed, the acid in the plaque will begin dissolving your teeth, eventually creating a caved-in area, called a cavity. If left untreated, a cavity will grow and damage the pulp (nerve) space in a tooth.
Snacking habits play an important role in whether or not one is prone to tooth decay. However, all snacks are not necessarily bad. The two main factors that make a food a dangerous snack for your teeth are the amount of carbohydrate (sugar and/or starch) and the length of time the food stays in your mouth. The bacteria in your mouth feed on these sugars and starches, and acid will begin to break down the structure of the tooth if it stays in your mouth long.
In general, a healthy snack is low in sugar and has high nutritional value. There are also some foods that are nutritional, but dangerous for your teeth because they stick around for so long. Examples are raisins, dried fruit, granola bars and chocolate milk. These kinds of foods are better eaten as part of a meal when other foods and liquids are present so they don’t hang around as long on your teeth. And of course if you do indulge in a sugary snack on occasion, be sure to brush afterwards. Your smile will thank you.
Information provided by Dr. Eric Forsberg, DDS, Altoona Smiles, 950 28th Ave. S.W., Altoona, 515-967-3046.