What Can Sugar Do to Your Teeth? - Smile Dental Center

woman eating cupcakeFor patients of all ages, dentists will consistently give one piece of advice for maintaining tooth health: Limit your sugar consumption.

Sugar contributes to tooth decay, providing fuel for the bacteria in your mouth to generate acids that eat away the enamel and form cavities. Learn how this happens and what you can do.

How Sugar Causes Decay

Naturally, we all have bacteria in our mouths. However, behavior is not uniform among all types and some generate acid once they encounter and metabolize sugar.

When this occurs, the bacteria involved generate a biofilm known as plaque, which accumulates on the surface of your teeth.

The growth of plaque can be controlled with routine brushing and flossing. If you don’t produce enough saliva or neglect oral care, the biofilm can grow, produce more acid and start to erode the enamel.

Once the acid level of the biofilm drops below 5.5 on the pH scale, it begins to dissolve the minerals making up enamel – a process known as demineralization. As this progresses, the acid eats through the enamel and dentin down to the pulp, where it exposes the root.

In considering this process:

  • Sugar is a food source for these bacteria. The more sugar that coats or sticks to your teeth, the more likely plaque will form and contribute to cavities.
  • In general, greater amounts of sugar provided to the bacteria generate larger concentrations of acid, which accelerates the demineralization process.
  • Saliva contains calcium and phosphate which, combined with fluoride from toothpaste and mouthwash, helps the enamel repair itself through remineralization.
  • While saliva washes away sugar as you chew and drink, it doesn’t have the same effect on all foods. High-sugar and starchy foods often leave a residue that saliva cannot fully wash away.
  • By the time you notice pain or sensitivity, the cavity created by the acid has already gone past the enamel to the pulp.
  • Generally, bacteria produce acids faster than saliva assists with remineralization. As such, reducing sugar in your diet can help preserve your teeth and reduce cavity risks.

Additional factors can complicate this process:

  • Many people get cravings after consuming sugar-based foods, due to the sharp rise and fall of blood glucose levels. This pattern creates a cyclical effect that can cause you to consume more sugar and increase your risks for tooth decay.
  • Sugar also accelerates the progression of periodontitis. Biofilms and tooth decay are harder to control once plaque calcifies into tartar and travels below the gumline.
  • Cavities and untreated gum disease can contribute to inflammation, leading to tooth or jawbone loss and cardiovascular concerns.

What Accelerates Tooth Decay

Multiple factors can cause your teeth to decay at a faster rate, including:

  • Regularly consuming sweets and sugary drinks.
  • Soda and sports drinks, which combine sugar with an acid through carbonation or citric acid.
  • Sipping sugary drinks – including coffee – throughout the day, as your teeth become constantly exposed to a source of sugar and acid.
  • Sticky foods, like candies, ice cream and starches, tend to accumulate on your teeth and interrupt the remineralization process.

Controlling Tooth Decay

To limit the amount of sugar to which your teeth are exposed:

  • Eat and drink less sweet foods and beverages.
  • Sip water as you eat or drink something acidic to better rinse your mouth of residue.
  • Prioritize vegetables, fruits, whole grains and protein in your diet. Not only do they contain less sugar, but also help with saliva production.
  • Understand hidden sources of sugars, including sauces, dressing and carbohydrates.
  • Keep up with oral hygiene, brushing twice per day and flossing at least once. Especially if you’re consuming more sugar than usual, brush after every meal and use mouthwash containing fluoride.
  • Increase saliva flow between meals by chewing sugarless gum and drinking water.
  • See a dentist for professional cleanings every six months.

Interested in learning more about dental hygiene and tooth care? To schedule an appointment, contact our Shelton office today.