Common medical questions and answers through blogs and articles

Sugar, the Tooth Killer

Consuming too much sugar can be damaging to your health, but many times we forget how damaging sugar can be to the teeth and mouth in general. About half of kids have tooth decay by the time they are 8 years old. This can lead to a higher risk of developing tooth decay as adults. Each time sugar is consumed, the bacteria on the surface of the teeth converts to acid. This acid basically attacks the teeth and gradually destroys the outer layer of enamel which protects the teeth. This can cause very fast decay of a tooth.

How do cavities develop?

According to a top dentist, the mouth has hundreds of types of bacteria and some of these are actually beneficial to the mouth and its health. But there are also some harmful bacteria which feed on sugar when it is eaten. The bacteria joins with sugars and creates the acid that starts wearing away tooth enamel which can lead to cavities. Without proper treatment, sugar joining with bacteria can cause decay to go past the surface of the tooth and into deeper layers in a tooth. This can become very painful and eventually if it is left untreated, it can lead to the loss of the tooth.

When is sugar most damaging to the teeth?

No matter how much sugar is consumed, an acid attack will last approximately 30 minutes. It will depend largely on how much saliva is still in your mouth and how long the sugar or sugary food remains in contact with the teeth. Basically, if you do not have a lot of saliva then eating sugary foods on a regular basis can increase the changes of tooth decay substantially.

Prevent tooth decay

The first way to prevent tooth decay is to cut down on how many times you eat sugary foods or snacks. It’s frequency that makes decay worse, rather than quantity. If you do eat sugary foods, eat them following a meal so that the saliva content in your mouth is still high and its defense is still at a high level. This can help reduce the duration of the attack from the acid that is formed. You may also chew on some sugar free gum following consumption of sugary foods. This helps increase the flow of saliva which helps rid the mouth of bacteria and acidic substances. Always check food labels for sugar content and opt for sugar free options when at all possible. Sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners are better for your teeth than sugar.

Honey and agave

There has been a lot of talk about using natural sugar substitutes; but are they as harmful for the teeth as sugar? Honey and agave are two of the most popular natural sugar substitutes used today. They are still considered sugars, but they have more complex carbohydrates than sugar. This means that they don’t break down as fast as sugar and are not quite as likely to cause so much damage to your teeth. Once you eat any type of sugar though, molecules will start to stick to your teeth and then bacteria which causes cavities will adhere to the sugar molecules. The bacteria likes to use sugar for its food and in the process they create waste which we call lactic acid. This is the acid which wreaks havoc on tooth enamel causing it to become very weak and the tooth unprotected.

It’s important to rinse you mouth out, or better yet to brush your teeth after eating any types of sugar. Even by rinsing the mouth out you wash away some of these bacteria that can cause so much damage. Natural sweeteners like honey and agave take a lot longer time to break down so you’re safe for a little bit longer as a general rule. However, you should brush your teeth at the first opportunity. Natural products like honey and agave can be easily substituted for sugar since they can be dissolved in drinks or baked into your favorite foods. Eating them directly on foods like pancakes can make the foods stick to your teeth and then they can cause the same types of problems as sugar.

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