A battle against tooth decay has been the foundation of dental practice since the first tooth was pulled. From complex dental procedures to simple at-home practices that help to keep dental decay at bay between visits to the office, the arms race wages on. The primary enemy in this war is the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, the organism responsible for the majority of tooth decay. Thankfully dental science has been continuing to raise the stakes and has had the upper hand for many years now. Unfortunately, a rise in food and beverages high in sugar has given mutans an edge, but not enough to overcome your dentist.
The Stages of Cavity Development
As part of the research being done to end cavities, a growing understanding of this component of tooth decay has arisen. During the earliest days of dentistry, the source of dental decay wasn’t well understood, but that has thankfully changed. The real culprit in this process was discovered by J. Clark in 1924, who is responsible for discovering streptococcus mutans. With the enemy of dental health revealed, at last, the process of eliminating it could finally begin in earnest. Research into the behavior of this bacteria has revealed the following stages of decay:
- White Spots Formations: At the first stages of decay, white spot formations are often seen. These discolorations of enamel occur as the surface becomes demineralized. They can also be the result of excessive fluoride, but this is rare.
- Enamel Degradation: The loss of minerals in the enamel results in it becoming softer and thus more susceptible to decay. These spots thus begin to thin, ultimately providing the bacteria access to the underlying dentin.
- Dentin Decay: Once the dentin has become exposed, things begin to move more quickly. Dentin is softer than the overlying enamel and breaks down faster under mutans assault. This creates dark spots and can make the teeth more sensitive to pressure, temperature, and acid.
- Pulp Infections: Once the dentin has become penetrated, the living pulp underneath can become affected. Tooth loss, pain, and serious infection can result from this exposure, which endangers the health of the tooth.
- Formation of Abscesses: This infection can create pockets of pus in the gums known as abscesses. At this point, the tooth’s health is in serious jeopardy, as is the jawbone. This infection can erode the jaw and can even become life-threatening if it enters the bloodstream.
Behind all of this is the bacteria Mutans, and its elimination would mean the end of almost 100% of cavities. Unfortunately, there’s no current way to eliminate all of the mutans bacteria in the mouth without also eliminating the healthy bacteria that live there. With over 300 bacterial species in the mouth, many of which are beneficial, something specific and targeted will need to be developed if we hope to end the mutans bacteria’s reign of terror.
The End of Streptococcus Mutans May Be In Sight
The Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry published studies that revealed the results of testing using a special chemical solution. The studies showed that nearly 40% of all biofilm was eliminated through the use of this solution, and the mutans bacteria itself was directly impacted.