Sugar and Its Effects on Teeth
It is commonly known and well supported by scientific research that sugar is bad for teeth. When dentists say “sugar”, most people think of soft drinks and candy. There are many other sources of sugar that are damaging to teeth, which often get overlooked. This blog will address why sugar is bad for teeth, which specific sugars are especially dangerous, and how you can fight sugar’s effects on your child’s teeth.
Why is Sugar Bad for Teeth?
Our mouths are full of bacteria. Some bacteria are good, and some are bad. The bad bacteria are those which feed on sugar to produce dangerous acids. (Some people have higher levels of bad bacteria, which gives them a higher risk for cavities!)
Bad Bacteria + Sugar = Acid —> Enamel Damage –> Cavities
Which Specific Sugars are Bad for Teeth?
If you have taken part in any low-carb or no-carb diets, you probably know the important differences between simple and complex carbohydrates. Nutrition experts emphasize the way these carbs are digested and how they affect your metabolism.
The distinction between simple and complex carbohydrates is also important for your teeth.
Simple carbohydrates are short-chain sugars that bad bacteria in the mouth quickly and easily break down. Complex carbohydrates are long, complex chains of sugar molecules that are more difficult for bacteria to break down.
Simple carbohydrates make it easy for bacteria to cause cavities. Complex carbs are also a sugar source for bacteria, but they take longer to digest, slowing the cavity process down enough for you to intervene and stop them.
Examples of simple carbs include the sugar in soft drinks, candy, cookies and other baked sweets, cereal, fruit juices and milk. Complex carbohydrates include whole grains, starchy vegetables (like potatoes), green vegetables, and beans/peas.
Complex carbs are better for your teeth than simple carbs, but there is still a risk for cavities. Often, complex carbs are sticky and become stuck in or between the teeth. If they are not quickly cleaned from the teeth, the bacteria have more time to break them down into simple sugars and cause cavities.
How You Can Fight Sugar’s Effects on Teeth
Limit intake of simple carbohydrates – Cutting simple sugars from your or your child’s diet is a sure way to lower cavity risk. Sodas have zero nutritional value, so eliminate them completely. Instead of sticky candies, switch to chocolate. Chocolate’s fat content gives it a lower risk of causing cavities.
Stimulate saliva – Saliva is our body’s best defense against cavities! Saliva has a slightly basic pH, which neutralizes the acid produced by bad bacteria. There are two great ways to stimulate saliva to fight sugar:
- Limit simple sugars to mealtime only! When you eat a meal, saliva production increases. A soda with lunch is less likely to cause a cavity than a soda sipped throughout the afternoon.
- Chew sugar-free gum. By chewing gum after eating or drinking sugar, you stimulate saliva. Ice Cubes is our favorite cavity-fighting gum. Give a piece to your child after any sugary snack to lower cavity risk.
Practice great oral hygiene. Do not let any sugars stay on the teeth. You can greatly reduce cavity risk by removing any sugary food debris from your tooth surfaces.
- Brush after sticky and/or sugary snacks.
- Floss, if possible, after snacking. If not, floss every night before bed.
- Use a fluoride containing mouthrinse after brushing and flossing.