Describes a substance that has the ability to cause caries, i.e. dental decay. Most often than not, it describes sugars, and the bacteria that can ferment these sugars to cause demineralisation and proteolysis of tooth substance, which is the process of decay.

Didn’t your mum tell you that eating too many lollies makes holes in your teeth?

In our society, sucrose is considered the major culprit, due in part to being the most commonly available sugar, and also because the bacteria in dental plaque can use it to make extracellular polysaccharides.

In order of decreasing cariogenicity:

sucrose & glucose & fructose & maltose
> galactose & lactose
> complex carbohydrates
>> artificial sweeteners e.g. sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, saccharine

Amazingly, saccharine has NO cariogenic effects but is 500 times sweeter than sucrose. Imagine how many less drills and fills (and bills) and root canals if all confectionary were made with artificial sweeteners.

Streptococcus mutans has been given the crown for being the most potent, but not sole, bacteria to take the blame. Streptococcus salivarious and Actinomyces spp. are culprits in caries occurring on root surfaces. These bacteria ferment the sugars to make an extracellular polysaccharide matrix that trap acid, and they can also produce lactic acid. And acids attack the tooth surface…

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