Those who frequently crave sugary foods like cookies, candy and soda may claim they have a "sweet tooth." Unfortunately, the effects of sugar on your teeth are anything but sweet. However, once you understand how sugar interacts with your mouth's microbes, you can combat negative impacts with a steady oral care routine and conscious consumption.
What Does Sugar Do to Your Teeth?
You might have heard the warnings about too much sugar consumption and wondered, "Is sugar bad for your teeth?" The sugar itself does not damage your teeth, but instead, it's the chain of events that follow each bite of a sugary treat. If not addressed, these events could lead to tooth decay, also known as cavities.
How Cavities Develop
Among the hundreds of bacteria that live in your mouth, many are actually beneficial to maintaining oral health. However, certain harmful bacteria feed on the sugars in the foods you eat. During the feeding process, the bacteria create acids that weaken the tooth enamel — the shiny, protective outer layer of your tooth. The enamel continues to erode or develop pits, which are too small to see at first but can get larger over time. These holes in your tooth are called cavities. Without treatment, cavities can progress past the enamel and into deeper layers of the tooth, causing pain, infection and possible tooth loss.
Your Mouth's Constant Battle
Your teeth are frequently under attack by acids, but the good news is that this damage is regularly reversed—acids leech minerals from the enamel through a process called demineralization. Fortunately, the natural process of remineralization replaces those minerals and strengthens the teeth all over again. Your saliva is a critical player in this process. Saliva contains minerals such as calcium and phosphates to help repair the teeth. Fluoride — which is found in drinking water and many kinds of toothpaste — is another mineral that helps repair weakened enamel. However, if you continuously snack on sweets and starches throughout the day or suffer from chronic dry mouth, natural remineralization may not be enough to prevent damage.
Ways to Protect Your Teeth from the Effects of Sugar
Eliminating sugar from your diet probably seems like an impossible solution to fighting acid attacks. Thankfully, less extreme habits can assist the remineralization process and help you prevent tooth decay. Follow these tips:
- Limit your sugar intake. Eating less sugary treats and more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables can benefit your health in numerous ways. A few simple swaps throughout the day can go a long way in slowing demineralization. Check out some of these tooth-healthy foods instead.
- Be selective with your sugar. If you do eat sweets, look for options that clear the mouth quickly. Sucking on hard and sticky candy like lollipops or sipping on soda all day prolongs the acid attacks, making your teeth vulnerable.
- Eat sugar with meals. Acids can attack your teeth for up to 20 minutes after you finish eating. Instead of snacking or sipping throughout the day, eat sugary foods with meals to reduce the effects of acid production and clear the mouth of sugary food debris.
- Chew sugarless gum. Consider chewing sugar-free gum after you finish eating. Not only does it help remove food particles, but it also stimulates saliva flow, which contains those essential minerals that help repair teeth.
- Drink plenty of water. Like chewing sugarless gum, water can help wash away leftover food and fight against dry mouth. Plus, fluoridated water assists the remineralization process to make your teeth stronger.
Combine these tips with a consistent oral care routine: brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss daily and visit your dentist regularly. Then you can take care of your smile without saying goodbye to sugar forever.