Sugar, while a tasty treat, is one of the most harmful substances that most people consume on a daily basis. In addition to being harmful to your metabolism, insulin, blood-sugar and energy levels, sugar can have a negative effect on your teeth as well.
All carbohydrates will break down into simple sugars at some point after you eat them. Some will not break down until they are in your stomach or lower intestinal tract, but others begin to break down right away, as soon as they come into contact with amylase in your saliva. Carbohydrates that break down into simple sugars in your mouth can then leave those simple sugars on your teeth. If you don’t brush and floss them away, they become prime food for bacteria. As the bacteria feast on this sugary meal, they produce acid, which in turn eats away at your tooth enamel, and once enamel is lost it cannot be regenerated. Therefore it’s very important to protect the enamel you still have by brushing and flossing regularly.
You can also protect your teeth by avoiding the foods that break into simple sugars fastest. These include any food that contains a lot of processed sugar, including candy, pastries, baked goods, and sugary sodas or juices. Avoiding these foods will not only protect your tooth enamel, but will have the added benefit of lowering your risk for heart disease, obesity and certain cancers. Other less obvious foods to avoid include anything white and refined, including white bread, crackers, rice, pasta, and so on. These foods can be nutritious if you eat the whole grain versions, but the white, highly processed versions contain few nutrients, and break down quickly into simple sugars that can damage your teeth. To check for sugar content, look for anything with the name “sugar”, or anything that ends in “-ose” such as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, etc.
Another factor in the sugar/tooth decay relationship is time. Simply put, the longer you wait to brush your teeth after you eat, the more tooth decay will occur. After you eat, and even while you are still eating, bacteria begin feasting on the sugars in your mouth and producing harmful acid. The goal for a healthy mouth is to remove that acid as soon as possible. Lucky for you, your saliva has some anti-bacterial properties. But this alone is not enough to keep your mouth clean and free of acid. Brush as soon as you can after eating. And if you can’t brush right away, pop in some gum, preferably the sugar-free kind that is sweetened with Xylitol, as this artificial sweetener has been shown to help prevent tooth decay. Also keep in mind that the more often you eat, the more opportunities sugar has to build up in your mouth, feeding hungry bacteria. If you snack often, be sure to brush often, too.
Brushing and flossing soon after eating is the best way to prevent tooth decay. Keep a travel toothbrush handy in your purse, car or desk, and brush your teeth often for optimal oral health. Then be sure to visit your dentist every six months for a professional cleaning to remove any lingering plaque.