Dentists and families have told us for years to avoid sugar because it promotes tooth decay. The World Health Organization and the US Government both issue recommendations to help us limit our sugar intake. The reason for these recommendations is to give us a reasonable expectation of the level of sugar intake we should scale down to for our health. Dental health is more a part of that than most people realize.
How Sugar Causes Tooth Decay
Your mouth is full of bacteria, but only a few species of them cause tooth decay. The prime culprit is called Streptococcus mutans. Other lactobacilli take advantage of the opportunity S mutans provides to collect in crevices and hasten the progression of tooth decay.
These types of bacteria thrive on carbohydrates, especially sugar. As they consume sugars, they secrete acid. This acid dissolves the minerals that make your tooth enamel hard, allowing holes to appear. Then the acid eats away at the holes, making them larger. Eventually this forms a cavity.
Carbohydrates cause plaque build-up on the teeth, which can only be mostly removed with proper brushing and flossing. Plaque forms a film on the teeth that trap bacteria underneath it, next to the tooth enamel. If plaque isn’t removed, it turns to tartar, which is difficult to remove and further increases your risk of tooth decay.
Prevention and Treatment
It’s important to see a dentist every 6 months to remove any plaque buildup that will lead to tooth decay. Your dentist can also assess your teeth and gums to check for damage and determine your risk of gum disease or tooth decay.
It’s also important to follow the oral healthcare routine as prescribed by your dentist, which involves brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash. They might also recommend a fluoride mouthwash to help protect your teeth if you’re particularly susceptible to tooth decay. Your dentist can also give you information on avoiding sugars or other steps you can take to prevent damage to your teeth.
Cutting out sugar where you can do so is an important part of protecting your teeth. When you do consume carbohydrates, particularly sugar, it’s important to limit the amount of time your teeth are exposed. Sipping coffee or sugary beverages instead of consuming them in a short period of time increases exposure. If you’re the type of person who sips sweetened coffee or tea throughout the day, you might want to consider sugar-free sweeteners.
If you choose to brush your teeth after every meal, it’s important to wait a half hour after eating before brushing. While you eat, the acid secreted by the bacteria in your mouth soften the enamel. If you brush before your enamel hardens up again, you can scratch the surface of your teeth. A roughened surface of the teeth creates more spots for plaque to collect and anchor itself to your teeth.
Taking charge of your oral health is an important part of caring for your physical health. Certain health conditions can increase your risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Likewise, oral health problems can increase your risk of stroke or other health problems if left untreated. Working with your dentist to eliminate as many risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease as possible can save you from painful and expensive problems in the future.