Everyone today knows that sugar – at least too much of it – is harmful for your teeth, but knowing this wasn't always the case.
As a matter of fact, when Aristotle first discovered and declared that foods, such as soft figs which had a high sugar content caused tooth decay, not only did the people not believe him, they made fun of him and called him mad!
As science progressed, it was proven without a doubt that sugar indeed causes tooth decay. While sugar alone definitely isn't the culprit, it does set in motion a chain of events, which eventually will lead to tooth decay.
This post shows the impact that sugar has on your teeth and dental health, along with tips you can follow to avoid tooth decay.
Your Mouth Is Actually A Battlefield!
Your mouth contains various kinds of bacteria. While some of these are actually beneficial for your oral health, there are also others that are the opposite.
According to a study, some bacteria produces acid inside your mouth by digesting any sugar that they find. Such acids “demineralize” your teeth by corroding the minerals on the tooth enamel, which is the protective and shiny outer layer of the tooth.
Fortunately, though, the saliva present in your mouth reverses this process through a process that is called remineralization. Your saliva contains minerals like phosphate and calcium, and with the help of water and fluoride (which is commonly present in toothpastes), saliva aids the enamel in repairing itself by replenishing the minerals it had previously lost.
This process helps in strengthening your teeth. That said, constant cycles of such “acid attacks” will lead to mineral loss of the enamel, which in turn makes the enamel weaker and eventually renders it vulnerable to cavities.
To sum it up, a cavity is actually a hole in your tooth that is caused by decaying of the tooth, which in turn is caused by harmful bacteria, which digest the sugar content in foods and produce acids.
If it is left untreated, it will spread to the deeper areas of the tooth, cause pain, and eventually lead to tooth loss. Tooth decay has various symptoms such as toothache, sensitivity to foods that are very cold, hot, or sweet, and pain while chewing food.
Sugar Lowers Your Mouth's pH Level & Attracts Harmful Bacteria
Believe it or not, sugar acts as a magnet in the event of attracting bad bacteria. Your mouth contains two types of bad bacteria – the streptococcus mutans and the streptococcus sorbrinus.
Both these bacteria are harmful since they digest the sugar that ends up in the mouth and produce dental plaque, which is a colorless and sticky film that forms on your teeth's surface.
When you don't wash this plaque by saliva or by brushing, the bacteria begin to convert the dental plaque to acid, thereby creating a hostile, acidic environment in your mouth.
These bacteria lower your mouth pH level, and the acids formed will dissolve minerals and erode the enamel. This first leads to the development of small holes, which later end up getting larger, and will finally give rise to an actual cavity.
Eating Habits Which Contribute To Tooth Decay
In the past few years, scientists and researchers have discovered that certain foods and food habits make you more vulnerable to developing cavities.
Consuming Snacks That Are Rich In Sugar
Thinking of eating something nice and sugary? Think again. According to many studies, people who consume larger amounts of sugary drinks and sweets are far more likely to get cavities.
When you consume sugar-rich foods on a regular basis, your teeth receive added exposure to the corrosive effects produced by the of various acids present in these products, which in turn cause tooth decay.
According to a study that was conducted among school children recently, those who consumed foods like potato chips and cookies regularly were up to 4 times more vulnerable to cavities as opposed to children who didn't.
Drinking Acidic & Sugary Beverages
Do you like to drink sugary drinks all through the day? Think again. Because according to research, the quantity, quality, and way in which you drink your beverages has a direct bearing on your vulnerability to cavities.
Certain specific foods, such as sports drinks, juices, and soft drinks have a very high sugar content. Additionally, they also have a high acidic content. Both these qualities are very effective causal factors of tooth decay.
According to one such study made in this regard, regularly sipping on sugar-sweetened beverages and holding them in your mouth for a considerable period of time increases the risk of getting cavities. This is due to the fact that when your teeth are exposed to sugars and acids for a long stretch of time, harmful bacteria get a chance to do more damage than they generally do.
According to another study that was conducted in Finland, those who drank 1–2 sugary beverages per day were 31% more likely to develop cavities. Another study that was conducted in Australia among children between the ages 5–16 observed that the amount of sugary drinks consumed daily had a direct bearing on cavities.
Yet another study that studied over 20,000 adults found that even a single occasional sugary drink makes the consumer 44% more likely to lose anywhere between 1–5 of their teeth, as compared to those people who did not consume them at all.
Eating Sticky Foods
“Sticky foods” which are characterized by their lingering, sugary taste have been viewed as a huge causal factor of tooth decay. Examples of such foods are lollipops, breath mints, and hard candies.
Since people tend to keep such foods in their mouth for a longer period of time, their sugars gradually keep on spreading in the mouth. This in turn gives rise to harmful bacteria, which digests the extra sugar and will produce a lot of acid, which finally results in more of demineralization and less of remineralization.
In addition to sticky foods, processed, and starchy foods like flavored crackers and tortilla chips also tend to linger inside your mouth and finally will lead to tooth decay and cavities.
Tips To Help You Fight Tooth Decay
According to scientific research, there are factors other than sugar, which have a profound effect on the development (or lack thereof) of cavities. These include circulation of saliva, fluoride exposure, diet and eating habits, and oral hygiene practices.
The following are some proven ways through which you can avoid tooth decay:
Eat A Healthy And Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet, complete with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products is a sure must for ensuring good dental health.
While it is best to actually avoid sweetened and sugary foods and acidic beverages, in the event that you do have them, you should try taking them along with your meals, rather than in-between meals.
Yet another thing you can do is use a straw when you're drinking beverages that are acidic and sugary. This will allow you to enjoy the beverage while giving your teeth less exposure to the acid and sugar present in the drinks. You can also add more raw vegetables and fruits to your meals in order to encourage saliva production.
Last but not the least, never let infants and children sleep with fruit juices, formula, milk, and sweetened drink bottles and containers.
Decrease Your Sugar Consumption
Given that sugar plays a significant role in tooth decay, it is best for you to avoid eating sticky and sugary foods as much as possible. And even when you do consume sugary treats, you should drink water with it, which will rinse your mouth and help dilute the sugar, which sticks to the surface of your teeth.
It may help to drink tap water, which often is rich in fluoride, and can help rinse your mouth better. You must also refrain from consuming soft drinks as much as possible. When you do drink them, you should avoid sipping them gradually over an extended period of time, which prolongs your teeth's exposure to sugar and subsequent acid attacks, and in turn makes them more vulnerable to tooth decay.
Instead, you can try drinking water. Not only is it natural and extremely beneficial, it has no harmful sugar, calories, or acid.
Maintain Good Oral Hygiene
Oral hygiene plays a detrimental role in preventing tooth decay. You must follow good dental practices in addition to monitoring your sugar intake.
While it is recommended to brush your teeth after every meal and right before going to bed, and brushing at least twice a day – just after you wake up and just before you go off to sleep – can be fundamentally helpful in preventing tooth decay and cavities.
To protect your teeth better, you should use toothpastes which contain fluoride. You can also try stimulating saliva flow, which helps the teethe “bathe” in useful minerals. In this regard, you can try chewing gum that is sugar-free, which will help your teeth remineralize and prevent the build-up of plaque by encouraging saliva production.
Last but not the least, you must visit your dentist for an oral health check-up every six months at the very least.
Sugar Teeth Side Effects Final Words
When you consume anything that has a high sugar content, the bacteria present in your mouth get to work and start breaking it down, and produce acid in that process. This acid is responsible for the destruction of the enamel, which in turn leads to tooth decay.
The situation, however, is very much under your control. If you keep your high-sugar consumption under control and avoid sugary foods and beverages in-between meals and before bedtime, you can avoid tooth decay.
To put it generally, leading a healthy lifestyle and maintaining good health is the key to avoiding tooth decay and gum disease.