For your teeth, sugar is the root of all evil. Humanity’s collective sweet tooth is doing us harm, and without proper care—and perhaps a reevaluation of our daily routines—we will continue to be plagued by the one thing we seem to love the most: sugar.
A fine set of pearly whites does a lot for a person: they restore confidence and connote a sense of hygienic care. There is evidence of our attention to dental care that reaches as far back as the Middle Ages where one used a paste of natural herbs and rubbed it on the teeth with a linen cloth. There is even evidence of herbal mouthwashes being used. Imagine the first person to ever deal with tooth decay: the pain and suffering, the not knowing what to do…Luckily, we know a lot more these days about the root of tooth decay.
There is plenty of evidence that paints a picture of humanity’s battle with the effects of sugar. Since its arrival, even when it was only used as a light seasoning ingredient, sugar has wreaked havoc on our teeth. And though there seems to be no cure for this particular crisis—one that only seems to be getting worse—maybe the answer to keeping sugar from killing our teeth can be found in how we use it. As the rate of sugar intake increases with the prevalence of sugary drinks and foods and sweets, maybe we need to rethink how we take care of our teeth.
Sugar and Tooth Decay
To better understand how to prevent tooth decay, it’s helpful to have a clear idea of what’s happening in your mouth when sugar is introduced. It’s not necessarily the sugar that’s to blame, rather it’s a combination of sugar and another ingredient that creates the danger.
Tooth decay begins when acid inside the mouth attacks the enamel and supporting structures of the teeth. Over time, if not properly addressed, holes and cavities appear and it keeps getting worse. Where does this noxious acid come from? Well, when the bacteria present in plaque interact with sugar, acid is produced. It’s that easy, and it doesn’t take long for this acid to dissolve your tooth bit by bit.
According to a study done by the World Health Organization in 2010, there is clear evidence of the relationship between sugar intake and tooth decay and the rate seems to increase as we age—do we take in more sugar as we get older? The scary thing is that it’s difficult to stay away from sugar. It seems to be in everything we eat and drink, and over years and years of sugars and bacteria combining, it makes sense our teeth are battered the older we get.
There are natural sugars, like those found in fruits, vegetables, and honey; these can do damage to the teeth; however, they are not as damaging as processed sugar. Foods high in white processed sugar, found in the likes of chips and cookies, are particularly rough on the teeth because the sugar leaves a sticky residue covering the teeth that is too tough to be rinsed away by saliva. The only way to remove this residue is to floss and brush. This is why these foods should be eaten occasionally, not every day and proper teeth cleaning should occur immediately after consuming them. So, the next time you enjoy your favorite processed snack, remember to brush afterward!
It’s not only in the food we eat. Drinking sweet drinks can be even harder on your teeth than foods can be because they often come with sugar and added acidity, both attacking your teeth. Sodas, in particular, are packed with processed sugar and acidity—the same with beer and alcoholic seltzer drinks.
Some sodas even have high fructose corn syrup added to them as a sweetening agent, which completely coats your mouth with a sticky, toxic film that breeds bacteria and acid. (Sounds like a scene from Stranger Things!)
Who Is at Risk?
We are all at risk of tooth decay, but children and adolescents—those grouped as most likely to consume larger amounts of sugar than others—are at most risk, as tooth decay and tooth loss are at the highest numbers among youngsters.
Plaque, a key ingredient in the acid that decays teeth, can begin to build as quickly as 20 minutes after we start eating (yes, “start eating,” not after we eat). The sugar in the food we are in the process of eating can begin to combine with this plaque and boom, you are eating food that is now eating your teeth. Clearly, the more sugar in the food you eat—not to mention the type of sugar—the more plaque and acid buildup inside the mouth.
Those who regularly consume alcohol and/or use tobacco, even vaping, are another group at high risk of serious tooth decay. Even coffee drinkers need to be careful. That little bit of creamer, that half a scoop of raw sugar can do some damage.
How To Combat Tooth Decay
Perhaps it’s not sugar that’s the issue, but rather our response to it. Sure, we can go “sugar-free” as often as possible, but the ubiquitous nature of the substance will cause it to always find its way into our foods and drinks. That said, the actions we take immediately after taking in sugar could be a remedy for tooth decay. Let’s be honest: eating or drinking sugar-laden treats will happen. So what then?
Here are some easy ways to keep that plaque and sugar from turning into acid:
Use a Straw
When drinking something you know has sugar in it, use a straw to keep as much liquid as possible from interacting with your teeth—this really works! Keep straws with you wherever you go, but keep away from the metal ones, as they tend to chip the teeth. Stick with paper or plastic straws. Do keep it in mind though that drinking from straws causes one to drink faster so slow it down a bit, especially if you are consuming an alcoholic beverage.
Have a Chaser
Remember, it only takes about 20 minutes for tooth decay to begin once you have begun eating, so you want to rinse as soon as possible. While eating, take sips of water between bites and swish it around a little—without being obnoxious. Once you finish eating, take a big gulp and try and use it to rinse. If you consume something containing processed sugar, a water chaser won’t be as effective. Consider using mouthwash (it’s a good idea to keep a small bottle handy) or, for best results, lightly brush your teeth.
Chewing gum right after a meal can break free those little seeds or bits of food from your teeth. Most importantly, make sure you are only chewing sugarless gum, otherwise, you are actually doing more damage to those teeth. Note that it’s not a good idea to always be chewing gum. A few times a day, after meals is fine, and don’t chew for too long. Overdoing it can cause discomfort to sensitive teeth. Once the flavor is gone, that’s a good sign to dispose of the gum.
Visit Your Dentist Twice a Year
This is one of the most important things to do. One visit to the dentist every six months is the perfect way to gauge how well your teeth are doing. A dentist can tell you if your teeth are becoming too sensitive or stained and advise you on what to do. It’s also good because you get a professional cleaning where someone is meticulously searching your mouth for cavities, bits of food, or anything else.
Stop into Adam Brown, DDS or visit us online today to set up an appointment. We can help you get on track, no matter your current state of oral health.