How Sugar Consumption Affects Your Oral Health

As a family dentist in Seaside, Dr. Scott Santos is dedicated to helping families make informed decisions when it comes to their oral health. While brushing and flossing remain critical, a balanced diet filled with fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean protein is also very important to maintaining your oral – and overall – health. This is because the sugars in our foods and beverages can, over time, cause tooth decay, cavities, gum disease, and more. 

How can the sugar we consume affect our long-term oral health and, more importantly, how can we protect our teeth? Read on to learn more.   

Sugar and Your Teeth

We’ve all heard that sugar is bad for your teeth and can lead to cavities. But in fact, sugar itself doesn’t hurt your teeth. A general term for a sweet-tasting carbohydrate, sugar comes in many forms and is usually found in foods. It’s an energy source for human bodies, including the brain and central nervous system. There are many different forms of sugar. The four most common are glucose, fructose (fruits from sugar), sucrose (table sugar), and lactose (dairy sugar).

The real reason why sugar is such a major issue for our oral health is dental plaque. This sticky biofilm, made up of oral bacteria and food particles, is constantly forming on the surface of our teeth. (Run your tongue over your teeth. Feel fuzzy? That’s plaque.) Plaque uses the sugars we consume every day to produce acids that slowly erode our tooth enamel.

While not all sugars are created equal, bacteria can feed on any type of sugar, no matter what form it is in. This includes “natural sugars” such as honey and maple syrup. Just like with refined sugar, these too can contribute to cavities too.  

That’s why it’s important to moderate the amount of sugar you consume. But it’s even more vital for children and adolescents. That’s because their teeth are still developing. Along with tooth decay, consuming large amounts of sugar can cause a variety of oral issues. The following are a few main examples:

  • Cavities and tooth decay. Also known as dental caries, cavities are tiny holes that develop on the surface of your teeth and are a result of tooth decay. If untreated, they will continue to grow.
  • Tooth loss. When left untreated, a cavity can abscess (a severe infection), resulting in a root canal or the extraction of the tooth.   
  • Gum disease. Bacteria can build up along the gum line, causing gingivitis (gum inflammation) and even periodontitis (gum disease). The latter can lead to bleeding gums and bone disease in your jawbone.

How to Protect your Oral Health

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways you can protect your oral health against tooth decay and disease caused by sugar consumption. Here are some important ones:

  • Brushing and flossing. Your first line of defense gently removes bacteria as well as its food source from your teeth. For best results brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. This will ensure that sugars can’t linger in your mouth for hours, giving oral bacteria more time to grow.  
  • Limit your sugar intake. While it’s impossible to completely remove sugar from your diet, you can certainly reduce the amounts you consume. Sugary offenders include sugar-sweetened drinks (soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks), hard candy, cakes with frosting, cookies, ice cream, and certain commercial cereals. You can also reduce snacking (which reduces acid production in your mouth) or try to only eat sugary foods at mealtimes.    
  • Regular dental visits. Visiting Dr. Santos regularly provides him with the opportunity to spot early signs of tooth decay before a cavity or gum disease has time to form. Along with an examination on your teeth, a dental hygienist will gently remove any plaque buildup from your teeth.

We’re Here to Help

Seaside family dentist Dr. Santos knows what it takes to protect your oral health. If you have any questions regarding sugar consumption and the oral health of your family, feel free to contact our office. Dr. Santos and the rest of our team are happy to answer any of your questions. Need to schedule a visit? Reach out today.