Understanding sugar and dental health is worth thinking about!
Sugar is a necessary source of dietary energy, but the frequency and quantity of sugar consumption is the main cause of dental decay. Prevention of dental decay requires the sensible use of sugar, rather than its total elimination from the diet.
How does sugar cause decay?
Plaque is a sticky layer of bacteria that coats the surface of the teeth. This bacteria digests the sugar that we eat and produces acid. The teeth are exposed to this acid for up to 30 minutes after eating and drinking sugary foods. Saliva helps to neutralize the acid and fluoride in toothpaste and water helps to repair the damage caused by the acid. However, if you constantly snack on sugary foods or drinks, then the repair time is not sufficient to stop tooth decay. Once decay has started, you will need to have it removed with treatment so that the tooth can be restored. Prevention of decay requires good dietary habits as well as fluoride toothpaste and effective brushing techniques.
Types of sugars
There are 3 types of sugar which dentists are concerned about:
- Lactose – found in milk, but is less harmful to teeth than other sugars
- Fruit sugars or fructose – naturally present in the fruit. These are not seen as a threat to teeth in this form
- Non-milk extrinsic sugars – removed from the foods natural structure by processing. These sugars cause dental decay, they include table sugars, confectionery and cakes, and are also in soft drinks and syrups. They are commonly known as sucrose, maltose, dextrose, syrup and honey.
- Sucrose – is the most harmful and the most widely used. The fact that sugar is obtained ‘naturally’ from fruit, for example, does not make it safe.
How can the risk of decay be minimised?
From a dental viewpoint, the key dietary message is to eat sugar less often. Sugar attacks the teeth every time it enters the mouth, so limiting the number of times this happens reduces the risk of decay. Restricting sugary foods and drinks to mealtimes is the most realistic advice. For most people though, quantity and frequency go hand in hand: if you enjoy a lot of sugar then you will probably consume a lot of sugar. A large amount of sugar is consumed in ‘hidden’ form like ketchup and cereal, which are not normally regarded as sweet or dentally harmful. Where these foods are eaten at mealtimes, the sugar content is less of a concern. It is snacks which are the real dental problem, and encouraging sugar reduction in snack foods and drinks is the main priority for dentists.
How to protect your children’s teeth!
- Keep sugary foods and drinks to meal times
- Between meals, give children appropriate sugar-free foods and drinks
- Cut down on the frequency of acidic drinks such as fruit juices, fizzy drinks and fruit flavoured drinks
- Brush teeth twice daily with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste
- Chew sugar-free chewing gum after meals
- Ensure they see their dentist every 6 months
- Always ask their doctor to prescribe sugar-free medicine
Eating cheese helps to fight tooth decay!
Studies show that eating a small amount of cheese immediately after a meal or snack can help to protect teeth against decay. Any food containing cheese encourages remineralisation or hardening of the tooth structure.
Foods least likely to cause tooth decay are:
Low-fat crisps, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, crackers, low-fat cheese or spreads, bread or toast, marmite, sugar-free jelly or any sugar-free confectionery or chewing gum.
If you would like more information on how to protect your teeth and maintain a good oral health regime contact us to make an appointment!