Dentists have told us for years that our sweet tooth is giving us cavities. From candy to soda to sugar found in plenty of foods you didn’t realize had been sweetened, it seems like sugar is everywhere. Is it really that important to avoid it?
What You Need to Know About Sugar
Sugar is not the direct cause of tooth decay. Rather, sugar feeds the particular type of bacteria in your mouth that release acid as they eat, and that acid eats away at your tooth enamel. It also interacts with the plaque in your mouth, which bonds to your teeth, making it difficult for your saliva to wash away the acid that’s causing damage. If enough damage is caused, it will start to create a hole in your dental enamel, which of course will collect more plaque and bacteria, leading to a chain reaction.
Do I Have to Stop Eating Sugar?
No. It would be nearly impossible to stop eating sugar. Rather, there are things you can do to minimize your risk of developing cavities and other health issues (like gingivitis) by forming certain habits.
Pay attention to the foods and drinks you consume that contain sugar or added sugar. Dietary guidelines encourage limiting these types of foods. Though soft drinks are one of the largest sources of sugary beverages in the American diet, fruit juices contain high amounts of sugar naturally and often have added sugar. You can’t always get away from sugar by drinking other things, either. Milk has sugar. If you add cream to your coffee or tea, you’re adding sugar. Most drinks you consume contain natural and/or added sugar.
Pay attention to how much time you’re exposing your teeth to sugar. One of the worst habits that exposes your teeth to sugar is sipping drinks. Even coffee with added sugar or milk contains sugar, so if you’re in the habit of drinking coffee all day, you’re continually exposing your teeth to sugar, increasing your risk of tooth decay.
Snacking can also be a concern, so try to limit sugary snacks to when you actually want them. Instead, substitute foods without added sugar and drink water or sugar-free beverages between meal times. The best food choices for your physical health also happen to be some of the best choices for your dental health. Crunchy vegetables and fruit with high water content and low sugar are not only better for your teeth, but have the added benefit of stimulating the flow of saliva. This not only washes away food and bacteria, but it also buffers some of the acid the bacteria are producing. Studies are now showing that saliva can help reverse small cavities before they become bigger problems as long as you’re proactive.
It’s also important to maintain proper oral hygiene habits including brushing (1/2 hour after eating, no sooner), flossing, and using mouthwash.
You should also get regular dental checkups to spot problems before they become serious and help reverse some of the potential damage your teeth and gums are taking that cause cavities and gingivitis.
The more steps you can take to eliminate excess sugar in your diet and maintain your oral health, the happier and more pain-free you’ll be. Your dentist can talk to you about things you can do to avoid the problems that can crop up from sugar consumption.