For good reason, flesh-eating bacteria has been prominently discussed in the Victoria Advocate this summer. People get seriously sick and even die from the vibrio bacteria eating the live flesh. The vibrio bacteria has been around our coastal bays for eons, yet the flesh-eating abilities hAVE just now come to light, and it is scary stuff and certainly newsworthy.

Tooth decay, which is caused by a completely different bacteria, is the same as flesh-eating bacteria except it is in teeth, not skin, and has been around since recorded history. Tooth decay causes people to be sick and causes death – the same as flesh-eating bacteria. Tooth decay is the No. 2 infection in children and the No. 1 reason children miss school, costing school systems much-needed income.

Unfortunately, because rotten teeth have been around forever, it makes them the norm. Can you imagine what the lay public and the media would do if tooth decay was a brand-new problem – one that had never occurred before? You see the headlines: “Child diagnosed with tooth-eating bacteria.” The fear is that it will continue to eat the tooth into the bone and be life-threatening to the child. Another unknown fear is whether this dangerous, debilitating disease is transmissible or not.

I know this analogy of comparing rotten teeth to flesh-eating bacteria is a bit sensational, but when you have spent your entire adult life repairing and extracting bad teeth, it only makes sense. Be assured, more people die from mouth infection than flesh-eating bacteria. In fact, it is so common, it is not even newsworthy.

Prevention is the key to all health. Preventing infection in the mouth takes eight minutes a day, four in the morning and four at night. Yes, brushing and flossing correctly. The type of toothpaste does not matter. All you have to do is have clean teeth and gums. Clean teeth do not rot. It is as simple as that.

Prevention starts as soon as teeth appear in infants and continues for a lifetime. The goal is simple: keep the teeth clean so bacteria cannot build up and eat the teeth, gums and bone. Yes, it is the parent’s duty to make sure the kid’s teeth are clean and kept clean.

The role of sugar

All sugar does is feed the bacteria that cause the infection which means if the teeth remain clean and sugar consumption is at a minimum, decay is almost impossible.

Here is a mind bender: What causes more decay? Cracker-type foods like Goldfish or chocolate? Even though chocolate has more sugar, rarely does it cause decay because it is washed off by saliva in just a few minutes? The purpose of saliva is to wash the teeth along with helping with digestion. Eat a Hershey bar and with healthy saliva and some water, it is no longer on the teeth. Not so with crackers. Crackers are refined carbohydrates that feed decay causing bacteria. Saliva has a hard time washing it off and bacteria thrive on it. This is one of the examples for the needed brushing and getting of all debris off the teeth.

Drinking a sugary drink is not that bad on teeth if you just drink it. Sipping on a sugary Big Gulp all day long is just asking for trouble. The sipping keeps the sugar on and in between the teeth all day long.

People addicted to meth also tend to sip on highly acidic, high-sugar drinks and develop what is called “meth mouth.” This not only heart-breaking but extremely difficult and expensive to fix.

One more fact on tooth decay and gum disease; they are both transmissible. Yes, the bacteria can go from one person to another. DNA tests from bacteria in children’s decay have the same DNA as the parents, usually the mom. The lesson on this is to have a decay-free household.

One more interesting fact on the transmissibility of oral disease. For more than 40 years, I have seen decay-free high school kids come back from college with decay. Why? Lifestyle, diet, drinking after others, kissing, etc.

Gives one pause, doesn’t it?

Dr. Mac Lee practices in Edna. He is an international speaker and trainer to dentists. He is dedicated to educate the public about dental disease. To learn more about dentistry, visit drmaclee.com or call 361-782-7191.

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