The Surprising Relationship Between Sugar and Tooth Decay

Maintaining healthy teeth does not necessarily mean eliminating snacking

Nov 22, 2013, 10:16 ET from Rodeo Dental & Orthodontics

FORT WORTH, Texas, Nov. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The effects of sugar on teeth are widely talked about.  How many times have you been told that if you eat sugar, you will damage your teeth and develop cavities?


You may be surprised to learn that sugar isn't directly the cause of tooth decay.  What actually causes tooth decay is acid – not sugar.  But there is a link between the two.  Sugar causes the bacteria in your mouth to produce the acid that eventually damages your teeth.  So the more sugar you eat, the more acid you will create in your mouth.  But this process all occurs because of plaque.

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that covers your teeth and gums.  It develops constantly and you clean it off every day when you brush your teeth.  Each time plaque comes into contact with sugar, acid is produced that attacks the teeth for about 20 minutes.  This acid can eventually create a small hole in the enamel. 

When your brushing and flossing can't reach the hole, or if you don't brush your teeth regularly, the bacteria gather and continue to produce acid.  The hole grows bigger and eventually you develop a cavity.  Untreated cavities continue to decay until they reach the nerve, and then you have a painful and more serious situation to deal with.

So what can you do to help prevent sugar from decaying your teeth?  Do you have to stop eating sugar altogether?

Not at all.  Your first defense is to pay attention to the amount of time your teeth are exposed to sugar.  Spending 10 minutes eating a small piece of cake is much better for your teeth than sipping on a sugary drink for three hours. 

You should also pay attention to the foods and beverages you consume that contain added sugars.  The USDA's dietary guidelines encourage limitation of these types of foods, and soft drinks are one of the largest sources of added sugar in the American diet.  Americans actually drink more soft drinks than all other beverages including water, coffee, milk and beer!  This translates to a lot of extra sugar coming into contact with your teeth.

If you like to snack, your teeth will naturally get exposed to acid more often.  So try to limit unhealthy snacks as much as possible.  Choose healthy foods without added sugar, and limit sugary beverages in between meals by drinking water instead.  The best food choices for your overall health are also good for your teeth. These foods include crunchy vegetables, and fruit some examples, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, apples, and pears. These foods have high water content and low sugar. They also stimulate the flow of saliva which help wash away the food and buffer acid. Other foods that are low in sugar and good for your teeth are meats, cheeses and nuts.

Foods that you should avoid are all candies, cookies, cakes, muffins, french fries, fruit chews, and other sugar sticky foods. Drinks to avoid are all sodas, Fruit Juices, and sugary drinks. These contain high sugar content which fuel the bacteria that grow cavities

Make sure to also maintain proper dental care to keep the amount of plaque under control.  This will help reduce the amount of acid that is produced when you eat, and will lessen the effects of sugar on the teeth.  Always brush twice a day, floss once daily, and get regular dental cleanings to remove excess plaque. 

We can't always keep tooth decay from happening, but we can lessen the chances through proper oral care and small dietary changes.  Remember to reduce your consumption of sugar, decrease the amount of time teeth are exposed to sugar, and get regular cleanings.  Your smile will be happy, and you can still satisfy those sugar cravings without excessive damage to your tooth enamel.

Author:  Margaret Zarrabi, DDS

Saam Zarrabi, DDS

Rodeo Dental & Orthodontics

SOURCE Rodeo Dental & Orthodontics