Is Sugar Really Bad for My Teeth? 

In Dental Health by Dr. Mathew Palmer

For decades, public health focused on the dangers of saturated fat. But recent research has highlighted the risks of overeating sugar on our bodies. But, sugar has always been public enemy number one when it comes to your teeth! Let’s learn more about how sugar can harm our chompers and what you can do about it.

How does sugar damage our teeth?

The sugar itself is not the problem for your oral health, but rather the acids that bacteria release after consuming the sugar. This is the stuff that damages your tooth enamel and leads to tooth decay and gum disease.

Sugar invites two types of bacteria to take hold on your teeth. Called Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus, these feed on the sugar you eat and turn into dental plaque, a sticky, colorless substance that forms on your teeth. If you don’t brush this off, your teeth become more acidic, leading to cavities.

To understand the damage that sugar can cause to your teeth, it’s also helpful to learn more about pH levels. A pH level 7 in your mouth is neutral, but when it gets down to less than 5.5, then the environment in the mouth is acidic enough to dissolve minerals and attack tooth enamel.

Most people consume too much sugar in their diets. In a recent report by the WHO, we need to reduce our sugar intake to 5% of our energy intake. This amounts to about seven teaspoons of sugar per adult. That might seem like plenty until you consider that there are 16 teaspoons of sugar in a can of cola alone!

Your mouth is a battleground

You might not know it, but your mouth is a stage of a constant battle between acids and other substances that fight against it. As the acids attack your teeth, it removes minerals from your teeth through something called demineralization.

However, calcium in your saliva and fluoride helps repair the tooth enamel after the demineralization process called remineralization.

However, replacing the minerals you have lost can only do so much to prevent the effects of sugar on teeth if you’re eating lots of sweets and starches all day. It’s vital to limit your sugar intake if you want to give your mouth a fighting chance to fix the damage.

What are the long-term effects of overeating sugar?

Sugar can have detrimental effects on our health and our teeth in the long term. In addition to spikes in blood glucose levels and increased risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, individuals are also at risk for gum disease.

How do I avoid damaging my teeth with sugar?

  • Practice dental hygiene. Brush the teeth with a fluoride-containing toothpaste and floss twice a day, thoroughly. Make sure that your teeth are clean after eating, but don’t scrub your tooth enamel immediately. Wait to brush until your teeth have had a chance to redeposit the minerals on your enamel – at least 30 minutes. After eating, drink or rinse your mouth with plain water to help remove the food particles and counteract plaque acids without damaging your enamel.
  • Try not to over-snack. Every time we eat, we expose our teeth to acids, and, naturally, our bodies are built to defend against these acid attacks. But a healthy mouth is designed only to deal with 4-5 acid challenges a day before it gets too much, and the teeth start demineralizing. If you consume small, frequent meals or snacks throughout the day, your saliva will achieve a natural balance by itself.
  • Drink water and not soda. Most carbonated soft drinks are acidic, and therefore bad for your teeth. This even includes diet sodas. That’s why you should avoid them when you can, and drink water or milk instead.

If you have any more questions about sugar and your teeth, come and talk to us! If you’re concerned about the effects of sugar in your teeth, we offer teeth cleanings that will help clear out the tartar, which causes tooth decay. Contact us today to set up an appointment.