How Does Sugar Cause Cavities?

sugar cubesAccording to the American Heart Association, the average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons (88 grams) of added sugar per day, which is more than twice the maximum recommended amount (36 grams). Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to many health risks, including diabetes, hypoglycemia, and obesity, and it can also lead to a myriad of oral health concerns.

In this post, we will discuss how sugar causes cavities in particular, (also called dental caries) and a few simple ways you can prevent them.

Sugar: Bacteria’s Favorite Treat

About 30 to 70 different varieties of bacteria can be present in a person’s mouth at any given time. Many of these varieties do not harm our oral health; some of them even provide benefits, like aiding the digestion process and protecting our teeth and gums. However, one particular strain of bacteria, Streptococcus mutans, feeds on the sugar and starches we eat and leaves behind cavity-causing acid. It only takes a few hours after eating for the lingering acid to begin boring through your tooth enamel.

Is sugar-free the answer?

You might think that substituting a sugary treat like soda with its sugar-free diet alternative would prevent erosion, but diet soda has the same effect. Carbonic acid in diet soda dissolves over your teeth, leading to the same cavity-causing damage that regular soda and sugar-laden snacks create. This is why it’s important to be mindful of the sugary foods and drinks you consume as well as the acidic foods and drinks. Many people are surprised to know that fruit juice, lemons and other citrus fruits, tomatoes, and pickles have a high level of acidity and can wear on the enamel if consumed in excess.

It’s not always what you eat, but how you eat.

The effects of any sugary or acidic treats worsen when they are allowed to linger on the teeth throughout the day. Chewing on sugary gum, sipping on soda, or savoring hard or sticky candy prolongs exposure of the enamel to sugar (or acid) and further increases your risk for developing a cavity. It’s important to remember that starchy, refined carbohydrates, like chips, bread, pastas, or crackers, also linger in your mouth and convert to simple sugars.

Simple Ways to Prevent Cavities:

woman using strawTo reduce caries, dietary sugars should account for no more than three percent of a person’s total energy intake, according to a recent article published in BMC Public Health. For the average person, this would be a maximum of about 13 grams of sugar per day. Since that is a very difficult target for most of us, here are a few simple tips to reduce your enamel’s exposure to sugar.

  1.  Use a straw

If you can’t kick your soda-sipping habit, a straw can help protect your teeth to some extent. The acid will still be present in your mouth, so it is best to try not to sip on the acidic drink for a prolonged period of time. Drinking water after drinking soda or another acidic drink will help to wash the acid away.

  2.  Chew xylitol gum

Chewing gum after meals and snacks can help rinse harmful acid off your teeth, but the gum must be sugar-free, or it will have the opposite effect. Research has indicated that sugar-free gum containing xylitol most likely inhibits the growth of the cavity-causing bacteria Streptococcus mutans.

  3.  Use natural sweeteners

When sweetening your tea or baking a sweet treat, consider using stevia or xylitol instead of refined sugar. Both are non-carcinogenic natural sweeteners that do not have sugar’s damaging properties.

  4.  Eat fiber-rich fruits and vegetables

Foods rich in fiber stimulate saliva production in the mouth, which will help to naturally wash away food particles and acid. Choose crisp fruits and vegetables, like carrots, apples, and celery.

Dr. Benjamin Fiss has been in practice for over 36 years and is considered one of the top cosmetic and general dentists in the Chicago area. If would like more information about the many services he provides, please schedule an appointment by calling (312) 951-5230 today. For your convenience, you may also fill out our online contact form.