Proper dental health positively contributes to your mental, physical and social well-being, allowing you to enjoy all of life’s potential. Specifically, it allows you to eat, speak and socialize free of discomfort, pain and embarrassment, the Canadian Dental Association says.
To maintain good oral health, you need to focus on how much, what type and how often you consume certain foods. Consuming some types of foods, such as sugar, can impact your mouth, gums and teeth far after you’ve digested your food.
The Canadian Sugar Institute reported Canadians consumed approximately 110 grams of total sugars each day in 2004, equaling 21 percent of their total daily energy intake.
The Dangers of Sugar for Your Teeth
Your mouth is full of bacteria — many are beneficial, while others are harmful. The harmful bacteria feed on the sugar you consume and create acids that attack and damage your tooth enamel, the protective, shiny outer layer of your teeth.
The acids form a bacterial infection that could lead to cavities and cause holes in your teeth. Left untreated, cavities can advance past your enamel into your tooth’s deeper layers, leading to potential tooth loss and pain.
Fortunately, while the acids are frequently attacking your teeth, your mouth is continually reversing the damage. Your mouth is in a constant state of demineralization, where acids are leeching the minerals from your tooth enamel.
However, the natural remineralization process restores and strengthens your teeth once again. Your saliva plays a crucial role in this process — it contains essential minerals like phosphates and calcium, which are influential in repairing your teeth.
Another essential mineral, fluoride, also helps to repair damaged and weak enamel. If you’re eating a lot of starches and sweets every day, there’s only so much the remineralization process can do to prevent the effect sugar has on your teeth. Therefore, it’s crucial that you do your part by limiting how much sugar you consume, allowing your mouth to do its natural job of repairing the damage and maintaining good oral hygiene.
Sugar is sugar, no matter the form — including:
- Maple syrup
And, don’t let incognito sugar fool you, either. Many manufacturers use sly pseudonyms to trick you into believing they don’t pack their food with sugar. Some examples of this are:
- Corn syrup
- Carob powder
- Evaporated cane juice
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
No matter what form it comes in, sugar can cause cavities. Learning why sugar is bad for your teeth is a sensible start in preventing cavities.
How Does Sugar Cause Cavities
No matter your age, tooth decay causes are the same, according to the Alberta Dental Association & College. Decay occurs when plaque bacteria feed on the sugar you’re consuming in your diet.
Have you ever wondered why sugar rots your teeth? Most people know consuming too much sugar can result in cavities and tooth decay, but not as many know how it happens. A whole chain of events takes place in your mouth after you enjoy a sugary sweet.
When you consume sugar, it immediately begins interacting with the plaque bacteria to produce acid. The acid then dissolves your enamel slowly, creating the cavities in your teeth, thereby making the acid the culprit for tooth decay — not the sugar. Tooth decay often results in tooth abscesses, where you may need to visit the dentist to have the tooth extracted.
Sugar and Teeth Facts
Here are some facts having to do with sugar and teeth, according to the Canadian Dental Association (CDA):
- Each year, three Canadians out of every four see a dentist or other dental professional.
- Around 84 percent of Canadians think their oral health is good or even excellent.
- Worldwide, 60 to 90 percent of school-aged kids and almost 100 percent of adults experience tooth decay.
- Students miss around 2.26 million school days each year in Canada because of dental-related conditions.
- About one-third of all surgeries performed during the day for kids between one and five years old is due to tooth decay.
- Approximately 96 percent of adults have cavities.
- Around 73 percent of Canadians brush their teeth twice daily.
- Around 28 percent of Canadians floss a minimum of five times each week.
- 96 percent of adults have had cavities despite them being extremely preventable
- Around 21 percent of Canadian adults who have teeth, have or did have moderate to severe gum problems
- Six percent of Canadian adults don’t have their natural teeth any longer
What You Can Do to Consume Less Sugar
There are things you can do to lower the dangers of sugar for teeth, starting with how much sugar you’re consuming.
The first step is to be more mindful of your diet. You may not realize your added sugar intake and what the standard should be. The recommended sugar intake by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada should be no more than about 10 percent of your daily calorie intake.
Beware of the “So-Called” Healthy Snacks
Although they may claim to be a healthy food choice, many convenience foods could contain unexpectedly large amounts of sugar. Cut back on how much sugar you’re consuming by becoming more informed about these sneaky culprits and considering homemade alternatives instead. For instance, take a look at the amount of sugar in these five foods.
A 16-ounce, medium smoothie you buy at the store could be adding up to 80 grams of sugar to your diet. Instead of buying a smoothie, make one yourself, so you know what’s going into it. Mix up a tasty smoothie using these ingredients:
- Non-fat milk
- Frozen berries
- Half a banana
- A drop of vanilla extract
- Sprinkle in some flaxseeds rich in omega-3
You’re consuming around 13 grams of sugar eating a four-ounce container of fruit-flavored yogurt. If you’re like many people and sprinkle on a 1/4 cup of store-bought granola, you’ve just added another six grams. Instead, mix nuts or fresh fruit into a 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt. Not only are you getting more protein than those store bought containers, but you’re also getting only a third of the sugar.
While it may be tempting to grab a packet of instant flavored oatmeal during your hectic morning, you could be adding in over 12 grams of sugar per envelope. Topping this off with a tablespoon of brown sugar adds another 12 grams. Forgo the instant packets and cook your oats instead. To sweeten, add a dash of cinnamon and 1/4 cup of diced apples.
4. Trail Mix
You may think a bag of trail mix you just bought at the store will serve as a healthy, quick snack. However, you’re getting around 16 grams or more of sugar per 1/4 cup. Create your own trail mix instead with protein-rich seeds and nuts, small amounts of dried fruit and maybe even a handful of chocolate chips — just don’t go overboard.
5. Salad Dressing
When you’re looking to crunch on a healthy salad for lunch, be mindful of the dressing you pour on it. Two tablespoons of dressings like raspberry vinaigrette, ranch or French have more than four grams of sugar. Try drizzling your salad with oil and vinegar instead.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Teeth
You don’t have to avoid sugar altogether to have proper dental hygiene. If you follow some basic practices, you can still consume sugar and maintain healthy teeth. Here are seven tips to help you avoid cavities while still enjoying your sugary treats.
1. Brush Often
Even with a busy schedule, you still need to keep your teeth clean. Some things you can do to ensure you’re correctly brushing your teeth include:
- Carrying a Portable Toothbrush: Disposable toothbrushes can come in handy, especially if you’re on the road all day. After consuming a snack or other sugary treat, you can stop at a restroom and brush away the food particles and sugar from your teeth. Some disposable toothbrushes even come with toothpaste built right in.
- Regularly Changing Your Toothbrush: If you enjoy your sweets, you’re at a higher risk than other people for additional plaque buildup. This is because plaque likes to hang out in carbohydrate-rich environments. When replacing your toothbrush, consider those with diamond-shaped heads and triple-action bristles since they’re made to clean hard-to-reach places better.
- Using Mouth Rinse: Mouth rinses are a good substitute if you don’t want to carry a disposable toothbrush on you during the day. They allow you to eliminate as much sticky residue and sugar as possible. Opt for fluoride mouth rinses if possible, but any mouthwash — even plain water — will be better than nothing to clean your mouth out.
- Opting for Snacks With Less Sugar: Fruits are probably your healthiest option to satisfy your sweet tooth. If fruit won’t cut it, however, grab a slice of pound cake instead of a chocolate brownie — it doesn’t coat your mouth with sticky sugar as much as other decadent treats.
- Chewing Sugar-Free Gum After You Eat: Sugar-free gum can help to clean out your teeth. It also can assist you in producing saliva, which, as you’ve read, helps remove the coating of sugar from your teeth.
To prevent cavities after you consume sugary foods, you need to keep your mouth free of the sugars and carbohydrates forming the acids that can result in damage to your teeth.
2. Don’t Let Sugar Sit in Your Mouth
Just as the quantity of sugary, sticky food you put in your mouth counts, so does the frequency in how you ingest it and how long it sits in your mouth. The longer you allow sugary foods to remain in your mouth, the more damage there can be since you’ll be leaving your teeth in acidic conditions longer. The more sugar you eat, the more you’re bathing your teeth in sugar and leaving your tooth enamel exposed to the acids that can wear it down.
3. Consume Sugary Foods With Your Meal
The best time to enjoy your sugary foods is right before you eat a meal. You’ll generate saliva as you eat your meal, helping to wash away the sugars from your teeth. Limit soda and other sugary beverages to mealtime, as well.
4. Chew After Eating
If you can’t brush your teeth or rinse your mouth out after consuming a meal, try chewing on a piece of cheese, which may help to neutralize the teeth-damaging acids. Apples and other fibrous, crunchy foods are good, too, since they help your body produce saliva. If anything, pop a piece of sugar-free gum in your mouth if you don’t have the opportunity to brush after eating.
5. Watch Your Diet
An unhealthy diet can also cause tooth decay and gum disease. Each time you eat sugars, starches and carbohydrates, you’re building up those plaque acids that can damage the enamel on your teeth, breaking it down and leading to cavities.
Most foods contain sugar, even healthy, nutritious food like vegetables and milk. But, you need these types of food to maintain a healthy diet. So, the key here is to control how much sugar you’re consuming by choosing food and drinks with low added sugars and reading food labels.
6. Know the Warning Signs You’re Consuming Too Much Sugar
Some clear signs you may be indulging a little too much in this sweet goodness include that:
- You’re breaking out in acne
- You’re tired or feel wiped out
- You receive a high cholesterol diagnosis
- You receive a high blood pressure diagnosis
- Your jeans become too tight
- You crash following an exercise session
- You have cavities
- You hardly ever feel full
- You feel down — high-sugar diets raise your body’s inflammation levels, which are associated with depression
7. Learn Gum Disease Warning Signs
According to Alberta Dental Association and College, along with preventive maintenance, you should know the warning signs of gum disease. If you suspect you have it, visit the dentist promptly. Some signs to look for include:
- Swollen, red or tender gums
- Separating or loose teeth
- Gums appearing to pull away from your teeth
- Bleeding gums while you eat hard foods, brush or floss
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste
- Pus between your gums and teeth when your press your gums
- Any change in your bite
- Any difference in how your partial dentures fit
Contact Dental Choice for a Dental Exam and Teeth Cleaning
The most critical component to good oral care is scheduling regular dental cleanings and checkups. The dentist can spot any signs of tooth decay early enough to help reduce or reverse the damage. To set up your appointment, contact Dental Choice for a dental exam and teeth cleaning. Complete our online form, or call us at 403.265.2527 to reach our Calgary-Airdrie office, or 780.444.8936 to speak with a representative in Edmonton, or (587) 713-4432 to reach our Red Deer office.