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.  

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.

Written by: Dr. Yahya Mansour