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The 20 Minute Rule (of Tooth Decay)


When I see patients with rampant, uncontrolled tooth decay problem, one thought always come to mind: Is the patient drinking too much sugared drinks?  People that drink a lot of soda, juices and coffee are likely to have many cavities. However, some people that don’t drink a lot of sugared drink can still get rampant decay, often at uncommon tooth surfaces.  Is there a reason why this is happening?

Which bring us the “20 Minute Rule”.  What is the “20 Minute Rule”? Read on…

The 20 Minute Rule

20 minute is how long it takes for oral bacteria to transform sugar into acid.  So let’s say you drink a can of soda, juice, or other sugared drinks.  After 20 minutes, the first batch of sugar in contact with tooth surfaces changes into acid, through reaction with billions of bacteria inside mouth. So sugar by itself is completely harmless, but once it changes into acid it starts to damage teeth.  Then the second batch of sugar changes into more acid, then the third, and so forth.  While the liquid you are drinking can rinse away some of the acid, some acid do stay around long enough to cause decay.

So what is the solution to the bacteria acid attack?

  1. Make sure you don’t drink any sugar drink over 20 minutes.  I know it’s very common practice to “sip” a drink for a long time, especially at coffee shop where you go surf on the web, sip a cup of coffee, chats with friends, etc.  What ends up happening is that during the 1-2 hours you are drinking inside the shop, your teeth mouth is exposed to acid for 1-2 hours!  Not good.
  2. If you have gaps between your teeth, and you find yourself using toothpick and floss to get the food out, watch out! Tooth gaps traps food bits, and bits of food tends to store and releases sugar around the area, promoting decay around the area.  It’s best to let dentist restore the gap for you.
  3. If you have baby that sleeps with the milk bottle, you are exposing your baby with a lot of acid, for the whole night! Milk sugar is different from common sugar, but it is still sugar to bacteria.  We have seen baby with so much decay that some teeth need to be removed.  Early removal of baby teeth can cause aesthetic and speech problems.

If you are able to drink under 20 minutes, you are in good shape.  Your saliva will take care of the acid by neutralizing it.  Your saliva will only get that chance UNTIL you finish your drink!

Copyright San Gabriel Dentist 2013

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Our Dentists

Steve Lee D.D.S. graduated from Indiana University Dental School in 2000, and completed GPR residency in Albany, NY. Dr. Lee accumulates years of experience and continues to take many dental CE courses.