As far back as you can remember, the association between candy, sweets, soda, and cavities has been declared over and over from all the experts on the topic… but have you ever stopped to wonder- what exactly is it about sugar that is so bad for your teeth? The truth is that sugar alone is not the direct cause of tooth decay- there is a sort of chain reaction that takes place, and sugar is a major catalyst. Lets look at the whole process a little more closely:
It all starts with bacteria… your mouth is full of bacteria that live there. They literally live there- eating, breeding, dying- a whole life cycle in the habitat of your mouth. They eating what you eat, and whenever you eat you feed them too. As with humans and most of the creatures we are familiar with, eating and taking in sustenance result in a process of extracting the nutrients from the substances consumed but creating waste products from the non-nutrient part of the consumed substances, and then the non-nutrient parts are excreted. In other words, eating results in excrement. Bacteria are no exception.
These mouth bacteria produce an excrement that is an acid substance. Acid has a negative impact on teeth because tooth enamel is weakened by acid- the molecular bonds that hold the hard crystalline mineral structure in place are disrupted by acid. While these bonds are weakened, tiny holes form, and if acids continue to dissolve the enamel, larger holes form. Over time, the acid can dig a hole straight through to the dentin!
Certain foods result in more excrement than others, and for bacteria, sugars and carbohydrates are the most acid-producing food that we consume… and furthermore, bacteria love these forms of fuel! Sugars and carbohydrates fuel their ability to multiply, increasing their numbers and helping them glue themselves together in a sticky yuck film known as plaque. This plaque is not easily washed away by saliva but goes on making lots of acid.
The very simple formula is that sugar+bacteria=acid, and it’s the acid that does the most harm to the teeth and makes them ripe for decay. So are the gears turning your brain… if sugar doesn’t result in tooth decay until the bacteria turn it into acid, then isn’t it the acid that is really so bad for your teeth? BINGO! Acid is a real enemy of tooth enamel! So while minimizing sugary and carby foods can help reduce the chances of decay, avoiding acidic foods is important too… sour can be as bad as sweet. Lemon juice and citrus, vinegar and pickles, soft drinks (including diet sodas!), energy drinks, fruits and fruit juices… these foods are best limited to meal times, and beverages can be sipped through a straw to help bypass the teeth.
It is possible to eat sugar and still avoid cavities if you take proper care of your teeth and don’t over-do-it with sweets, carbs, and acidic foods. Brushing and flossing daily are the best ways to remove and minimize plaque and keep it in check. Brush and floss thoroughly and visit the dentist regularly too for a professional cleaning and to check for any cavities so they can be treated before they get really bad or cause pain. And at Mall of Georgia Dentistry, we believe education and prevention are the best medicine! So get your brush on 2x2minutes a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and once daily floss floss floss… use a “c” shape and go gently up and down each tooth’s inner surface. Limiting sugary foods and making water the main beverage are good choices for your teeth too… put all this on the list of things that make your teeth smile!