Sugar & Your Oral Health

dentist in Astoria, Oregon

If you’ve been paying attention during visits with your choice for dentures in Seaside, you probably know that eating too much sugar is bad for your oral health. While modern dentistry has understood this concept for decades, the idea that sugar caused problems for our teeth wasn’t always so well known. In fact, when the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle used to warn that eating sweet foods like figs could cause tooth problems no one believed him. Today, however, science clearly understands the direct connection between tooth decay and sugar.

But before we paint sugary treats as too bad a villain in this story, sugar alone isn’t the direct cause of tooth decay. In actuality, it’s the chemical processes that eating sugar sets in motion that’s to blame.

Sugar’s Impact on Your Oral Health

Our mouths contain millions – occasionally billions depending on the last time you brushed – of different strands of oral bacteria. While much of this bacteria actually plays a beneficial role that helps to protect our health, some is potentially harmful. Some bacteria actually transform the sugars we eat into a corrosive acid that slowly attacks the hard outer layer of our teeth – the enamel. This is a process known as demineralization.

Fortunately, the mouth does have some natural defenses to help combat harmful oral bacteria. Saliva works to continuously reverse this damage in a natural process called remineralization. Saliva contains natural minerals, such as phosphate and calcium, in addition to the fluoride found in toothpaste, helps the enamel self-repair by replacing the minerals lost due to corrosive oral bacteria.

While saliva can help to strengthen our teeth, repeated corrosive attacks causes mineral loss in our teeth. Over time, this weakens our enamel, causing cavities to develop. If left untreated, cavities can spread to the deeper layers of our teeth, causing pain and the potential for permanent tooth loss.

How Sugar Stimulates Bad Bacteria

Sugar naturally draws harmful oral bacteria. The two most destructive strains of oral bacteria – Streptococcus sorbrinus and Streptococus mutans – both thrive off the sugars we eat to form plaque – a sticky biofilm that forms on the surface of our teeth. If plaque remains on our teeth – which occurs when we fail to brush and floss daily – the bacteria converts sugars into acid. This creates an acidic environment inside our oral biome.

When at balance, the pH level of our mouth is 7. When the pH level drops to below 5.5., the acids created by plaque can work to destroy the minerals in our tooth enamel. By stripping away these needed minerals, plaque can cause tiny holes to develop in the surface of our teeth. Over time, these holes become larger, eventually resulting in the development of a cavity.

Habits That Cause Tooth Decay

Now that you understand that role sugar plays in helping cavities to develop let’s take a look at some of the habits that contribute to tooth decay.

Diets high in sugar. If your day starts with a mocha, continues with you sipping on a soda throughout the afternoon, and ends with a chocolaty treat, your diet may contain too much sugar. Since sugar contributes to tooth decay, it only makes sense that diets high in sugar place the health of your teeth at a greater risk when compared to more balanced diets. Even if you avoid the sweeter side of sugar, carbohydrates from potato chips, pastas, and processed grains also rank as types of sugar.

To lower your risk of tooth decay, it’s important to focus on eating a balanced diet that contains multiple servings of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You should also consider cutting back on the amount of soda you consume if you’re drinking more than one a day. In fact, that leads us to our next habit…

Drinking Sugary or Acidic Beverages. The most common source of sugar intake in most diets is from beverages high in sugar, such as sodas, sport drinks, and energy drinks. Not only do these types of beverages contain high amounts of sugar, they also have high levels of acid that can cause tooth decay. In a recent study, researchers in Finland found that drinking between one and two sugary beverages a day increased an individual’s risk of cavities by 31 percent! Additionally, another Australian study found that kids between the ages of 5 to 16 had a direct correlation between the number of sugary beverages they consumed daily to the number of cavities they developed.

Finally, one study of more than 20,000 adults found that consuming just one occasional sugary beverage was enough to increase the risk of losing between one to five teeth by 44 percent, when compared to adults that did not drink sugary beverages. This means that drinking a sugary beverage more than twice daily nearly triples your risk of losing more than six teeth in your lifetime.

Lowering Your Risk of Tooth Decay

Fortunately, you can significantly lower your risk of tooth decay by scheduling regular exams and cleanings with your dentist in Astoria, Oregon, and by brushing and flossing daily. While practicing quality oral prevention can go a long way towards protecting your long-term oral health, making changes towards eating a more balanced diet without a lot of excess sugars can make an enormous difference to your oral and overall health.