How Does Sugar Actually Affect Your Oral Health?

Most of us have been taught some version of the idea that sugar will rot our teeth. That’s why our parents rationed our Halloween candy (and why we parents tend to ration our kids’ Halloween candy).

Even though sugar has a bad rap, Americans love the stuff. Research suggests the average American consumes a whopping 66 pounds of added sugars every year.

That may be good news for our taste buds, but it’s bad news for our oral health. Turns out, parents aren’t just lying to their kids to avoid the dreaded “sugar high”. Sugar can seriously damage your oral health, and here’s how.

We hope you enjoy this blog, but please remember, it should NOT take the place of advice and consultation from a qualified dental professional (like the team at Rifkin Dental!). Please don't use content on the internet to self-diagnose — see your dental professional for regular check-ups and if you suspect you might have a chronic or acute dental issue.

How Sugar Harms Your Teeth

A lot of us think that sugar burrows into our teeth and causes them to decay from the inside out. In reality, sugar’s relationship to dental health is a little more complicated.

To understand it, you first need to know that our mouths naturally contain hundreds of types bacteria. Some of these bacteria are “good,” meaning they support a healthy oral cavity. Others are “bad”—and these are the bacteria that account for sugar’s negative effects.

These “bad” bacteria tend to hang out in plaque, and they love sugar. When they feed on sugar, they create acids that wear down tooth enamel by leaching important minerals out of the enamel—thus leading to tooth decay. This leaching process is called “demineralization.”

Here’s how it works:

·It all starts when you consume sugar in the form of soda, candy, cookies, pastries, and so on.

·Eating sugary foods introduces sugar into your mouth, which sparks a feeding frenzy among the “bad” bacteria.

·As the bad bacteria feed on the sugars in your mouth, they release acids. These acids then attack your teeth’s enamel by leaching minerals, which weakens the enamel and sets the stage for tooth decay.

At reasonable levels, demineralization doesn’t pose a major threat to your mouth. On any given day, mineral-leaching acids are produced by “bad” bacteria—but your mouth’s natural processes of “remineralization” help counteract these processes. Remineralization is the process by which the minerals in your teeth’s enamel are restored—typically through the presence of minerals in saliva and the fluoride found in most toothpastes.

While your mouth is equipped to fight back against some demineralization, it doesn’t have the resources to protect against constant acid attacks. And when you consume a lot of sugar throughout the day, you’re encouraging constant acid attacks. That’s when tooth decay can set in.

So how can you defend your mouth from nefarious, sugar-loving bacteria and the enamel-destroying acids they produce?

For starters, you can learn to read food labels and make food choices that limit your sugar intake. If you do eat something sugary, plan to take a break from eating for the next few hours (and avoid eating more sugary foods later in the day) to give your body’s remineralization processes time to do their job. You can also drink plenty of water to encourage saliva production, which aids remineralization.

And of course, sound oral hygiene habits and regular trips to the dentist are always your best line of defense when it comes to preserving your oral health.

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