Why is Sugar So Bad for My Teeth?

We grow up hearing that sugar is bad for our teeth.  We assume that people who have “bad teeth” consume large amounts of sugar.  Sugar is certainly one of the most important factors in the cavity process.  This week’s blog will help you understand the role sugar plays, and how you can protect your teeth against it!

How Does Sugar Lead to Cavities?

A cavity is a bacterial infection of the hard structures of the tooth.  Our teeth consist of an inner core of dentin, which is harder than bone and a pale yellow color.  Enamel is even harder and covers the dentin to protect the softer core of the tooth.

Enamel is impervious to most things, which is what makes it the perfect material to protect our teeth.  It can withstand the various forces of eating and drinking, including the different temperatures, chemicals and pressures that those functions entail.  The one thing enamel is vulnerable to is acid.

The bacteria living in dental plaque produce acid as a by-product when they “eat” sugar.  Simple carbohydrates are their primary source of fuel, so when you have a high sugar intake, you are feeding these cavity-causing bacteria.  The more sugar the bacteria ingest, the more acid they produce.

As dental plaque stays in contact with the teeth, that acid creates a weak spot, softening and dissolving the enamel underneath.  This allows the bacteria to break down the hardest substance in the human body!  (That’s why we want you to brush and floss really well every single day.)

Are Some “Sugars” Worse than Others Are?


Bacteria can digest simple carbohydrates more easily than complex carbohydrates.  That means that the sugars in raw veggies are better for your teeth than the sugars in most of our sweets.  Cookies, candy, and cakes are packed with simple carbs that the bacteria can metabolize into acid relatively quickly.

When choosing snacks for yourself or loved ones, try to pick items that have a blend of complex carbs, proteins and fat.  If you must have something sweet, select a dark chocolate that contains nuts.

All sweets are not equally bad, either.

Some sweets have a higher risk for causing cavities due to their ability to stick to the teeth.  Candies that are gummy or sticky often get stuck in the deep pits and grooves of the back teeth or between the teeth.  This keeps them in contact with dental plaque for longer periods of time, giving the bacteria more time to feast.

Hard candies that people tend to hold in their mouth for minutes at a time also have a greater chance of leading to cavities.  This is because it provides a constant sugar source to the bacteria as you suck on the candy.

Beverages that are high in sugar also tend to cause cavities relatively easily, especially when you sip on them for hours instead of quickly drinking the entire thing.  Like hard candy, this slow sipping constantly bathes your teeth in sugar, giving those bacteria a continual fuel supply for destruction.

How Can I Enjoy Some Sugar and Protect My Teeth?

We do not want to take all of the fun out of life!  We know people often celebrate with sweets or enjoy them as an after-meal dessert.  There is a way to enjoy a moderate amount of sugar while still protecting your teeth.  Follow these tips to lower your risk from sugar intake!

  • Enjoy your sweets as close to mealtime as possible. The reason this is effective in lowering cavity risk is due to the high production of saliva that occurs during mealtimes.  Saliva is our body’s best defense against cavities.  When you eat sweets with your meal, your saliva can counteract the acid produced by bacteria much better than when you consume sweets between
  • Chew sugar-free gum after your sweets. Chewing gum helps stimulate an increase in saliva flow, which will fight the cavity-causing ability of bacteria, as we mentioned in the prior bullet.  This is a great tool when you can’t rinse or brush immediately.
  • Rinse your mouth with plain water. Rinsing your mouth with water helps quickly return the pH back to neutral.  Bacteria produce acid, and they work more efficiently in an acidic environment.  By neutralizing the mouth, you can fight some of the damage of bacteria.  Water can also flush away food debris that may contain some lingering carbohydrate particles.
  • Maintain great oral hygiene. The purpose of oral hygiene is to remove dental plaque from the teeth.  Bacteria can only cause cavities when the plaque stays in place on the teeth for an extended period of time.  If you successfully remove it daily, your risk for cavities drops dramatically!
  • See your dentist regularly and follow his recommendations for preventing cavities. Unfortunately, some people have conditions that place them at a severely high risk for cavities, even when they follow all of the above tips quite strictly.  For this reason, we offer additional preventive recommendations to our patients, customized based on their unique risks and needs.  Let us help you fight cavities more effectively.

More Questions about Sugar and Teeth?

Call Timberlake Dental at 940-382-1750 today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning or a professional teeth cleaning with one of our wonderful dental hygienists.  We can answer any question you have about your cavity risk and make customized recommendations based on your individual needs.

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