Bacteria and Cavities: The True Halloween Horrors
Updated: Jun 5, 2021
One of the greatest Halloween pastimes is dressing up as a beloved character and going door-to-door asking your neighbors “Trick or Treat?”. While this year will definitely bring a unique twist to this Halloween tradition, there will still no doubt be copious amounts of candy consumed. In a typical year, it’s estimated that Americans spend some $2.6 billion on Halloween candy. The enormous load of candy you could score at the end of the night could satisfy any sweet tooth for weeks to come; Halloween is a fabulous day to be a kid.
But this sweet tooth can quickly and easily become the worst nightmare of so many parents when they bring their kids to their next dentist visit and hear the wretched monstrous word: “cavity”.
What are Cavities?
Cavities, or sometimes called tooth decay, are the product of poor oral health and are exacerbated by sugary drinks or snacks like candy. Candy doesn’t cause cavities, poor oral hygiene and bad decisions do. There’s no reason not to enjoy a sweet every so often while dressing up in costumes, it is just too much fun to forfeit.
Not all sweets are created equally though, if you're looking for the right piece of candy to satisfy your sweet tooth without decaying it, go for dark chocolates and be picky about the sticky stuff like starburst and tootsie rolls.
Dental caries are a pretty common problem, and are easily treated now with drills, fillings and a hefty wad of cash. However, if left untreated, they can have very severe effects including tooth loss, abscess and pain.
Cavities are yet another product of our microbial friends. Your mouth is filled with its own natural flora. We call this the oral microbiome. Everyone's oral microbiome is unique and is based on what you eat and your oral habits. On average, each person might have 300 different species of bacteria swimming in their mouth. Every time you kiss someone, you swap microbes with them, some believe in just ten seconds of Frenching, you can exchange some 80 million bacteria. Sharing is caring!
When you eat, you are also feeding your oral and gut microbes and they love sugar. When you neglect to clean your teeth frequently, these sugars will begin to build up. Just like humans, with more food, the microbes are able to flourish and build little societies. Their settlements are built in the safest place, in and around your gum line equipped with a city wall for protection that we call plaque and tartar, but really it’s just another biofilm.
The plaque is great for the microbes but not so great for your tooth, as the acidity starts to erode the enamel and begins decaying the tooth. Eventually, the enamel breaks down and a little hole is formed in your tooth, hence the name cavity.
What's Worse Than Cavities?
If the bacteria from the biofilm get near your gum line, they can invade the gum tissue and cause gingivitis which can lead to an even scarier disease - periodontitis. This disease you actually can lose bone and tissue from around your teeth. Your gums can start pulling away from your teeth which subsequently causes bigger pockets to house millions of microbes.
Of the 300 species in your mouth, there’s actually only a few that will create this plaque and cause cavities. The major culprit of dental decay? Streptococcus mutans.
The Take Home Message!
Tick or Treating can be a great family bonding experience, just extend that tradition into November 1st by celebrating National Brush Day. And while we are all hyper focused on washing our hands don’t forget to brush those teeth!
For More Monstrous Microbes Check Out These Blogs!
Part III: Chloroplast As Frankenstein and Micavibrio as Dracula!
Part IV: Microbial Mummies and The Moldy Rye Bread Of Witches
Part V: The Light And Dark Of The Black and White Plagues