There are all sorts of health benefits to cutting back on sugar. And although we’ve always known about the relationship between sugar and tooth decay, there’s increasingly more evidence about sugar’s connection with other health related conditions too. High sugar diets increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as well as other, often complex health issues.
Sugar works its magic by partnering with bacteria which live on the surface of our teeth. There is a range of different types of bacteria and, depending on the individual, there are fewer or greater numbers of specific bacteria. Interestingly, our oral microbiome, or community of bacteria, begins at birth and is strongly influenced by our mother’s oral health and her own bacteria during pregnancy.
When we eat or drink something containing sugar, the bacteria on the surface of our teeth eat the sugary residue and acid is formed. This acid works like a microscopic extraction fan, pulling minerals out from the surface of the tooth. Eventually, this weakens the enamel of the tooth and dental cavities form.
Once a tooth is decayed and filled, it is never as strong as it once was. There isn’t just a financial cost in restoring teeth, but also a biological cost as well which can be lifelong.
There are lots of things you can do, but the first and most important is to understand how important your role is in preventing decay in the first place. Whilst your dentist will be supporting you, their role builds on what you’re doing every day between visits.
Book an appointment to see your dentist regularly to maintain good oral health. Small issues can easily become big issues. It’s important to have your dentist monitor your teeth and give you individual support and guidance about preventative strategies.
Every time we eat and drink, the sugar + bacteria = acid cycle happens again. Snacking is a good example of how eating frequency leads to repeated acid attacks. There simply isn’t enough time for the mouth to build up enough protective mechanisms to prevent decay from happening.
If you’re hungry and need a snack, reach for a glass of milk (unflavoured), unsweetened yoghurt, nuts or crunchy vegetables like carrot sticks or celery. If you need a sweet treat, eat it in one sitting and then brush your teeth. This will help you to limit the acid = decay cycle.
Oral bacteria groups together and forms plaque, a sticky film which coats the teeth. Plaque uses the sugar we eat as a form of energy and in time, plaque grows thicker and harder to remove. That’s one of the reasons why regular dental checks are important – to get rid of plaque build-up which tooth brushing alone cannot remove.