As a kid, your parents no doubt told you that too much sugar would rot your teeth. They may not have known exactly how, but they were exactly right. A high-sugar diet does increase your risk of developing dental decay.
Although it isn’t quite a direct effect, sugar promotes the growth and damaging effects of cavity-causing bacteria.
Below, we’re going to take a look at how sugar can damage your teeth, and more importantly, two rules of thumb when it comes to prevention.
How Sugar Damages Teeth
No matter how much you brush, many different types of bacteria live in your mouth. This is normal. In fact, some bacteria are beneficial to your dental health. Other bacteria, however, are not.
Sugar’s Like Sugar to Oral Bacteria
The root problem is, sugar is like…well, sugar to that bad bacteria. When you consume sugary foods, you’re feeding these bacteria, causing it to quickly multiply. The more bacteria in your mouth, the greater your risk of attacking your teeth. Here’s why…
Acid, Bacteria’s Byproduct
When harmful bacteria in your mouth encounter and digest sugar, they produce acid. This acid then erodes the minerals from your tooth enamel, the protective outer layer of your teeth. We call this ‘demineralization.’
The Vicious Sugar Cycle
Over time, the repeated cycle of you consuming a high-sugar diet, your harmful oral bacteria consuming the excess sugar, and then producing acid as a byproduct ultimately leads to the weakening and destruction of the enamel, allowing cavities to form.
How to Stop (or Slow) the Sugar Damage Cycle
Fortunately, you can protect your teeth against the damage of a high-sugar diet by following two easy rules of thumb: reduce the amount of high-sugar foods in your diet, and when you do indulge, reduce the time excess sugar sits on your teeth.
Reduce Consumption of Sugary Foods
We know reducing sugar intake can be easier said than done. So here are the biggest culprits contributing to tooth decay. Maybe an easy place for you to start reducing your sugar intake?
High-sugar drinks wash over the teeth, leaving behind a coating of sugar, rather than just on chewing surfaces like food. Carbonated soft drinks are also acidic, further increasing enamel damage.
Hard candy, breath mints, lollipops — all seem to be a quick, low-calorie treat, but these sticky candies provide the long-lasting sugar sources bad oral bacteria need to thrive.
Switching to sugar-free gum can be helpful, and choosing a gum sweetened with xylitol can even discourage tooth decay.
Reduce the Amount of Time Sugar Stays on the Teeth
Okay, okay. So you’ve committed to reducing your sugar intake. Still, everyone indulges from time to time. When you do, reduce the amount of time your teeth are exposed to sugar with the following tips:
- Avoid grazing. Instead, consume your sugar all at once. It decreases the number of acidification cycles.
- Use a (metal) straw. Consuming sweet drinks through a straw will decrease the amount of sugar reaching your teeth. (Metal straws are good for the environment.)
- Rinse with Water. Drinking or rinsing with good old H20 after consuming sugary foods will wash away the thin layer of sugar coating your teeth.
- No Midnight Snacks. Avoid consuming sweets near bedtime, even if you brush and floss.
- Balance Your pH. Use mouthwashes and fluoride gels designed to raise your pH.
The point is that you can decrease your mouth’s exposure to sugar by limiting the amount of sugary foods you eat and – perhaps more importantly – by taking steps to minimize exposure when you do indulge.
If you have questions about your diet or specific foods and the effects of their sugar content on your teeth, reach out to your South Florida dentist and ask!