How Does Sugar Affect Your Teeth?

It is common knowledge that sugar is bad for your teeth. Many people, however, do not really understand why or how sugar harms their teeth. As a result, they don’t know what precautions they should take in order to enjoy the sweet treats they love while also safeguarding their teeth from the harmful effects of sugar.

In this article, we’ll examine exactly how sugar affects your teeth and what you can do to mitigate these problems while continuing to enjoy all the foods and drinks you love.

Woman holding her jaw in pain while looking at a giant lollipop

How Does Sugar Affect Your Teeth?

A variety of minerals, including calcium, phosphate, and fluoride, comprise your teeth and the hard layer of tissue, called enamel, that covers and protects them.

Throughout each day, your teeth constantly undergo processes of mineralization (the process of minerals forming the teeth from within the body), demineralization (the process of the teeth’s minerals breaking down and getting lost), and remineralization (the process of replenishing the teeth’s minerals to fortify their structures).

Sugar plays an integral role in the demineralization process of teeth because the harmful bacteria living inside your mouth (Yes, the mouth contains strains of both harmful and beneficial bacteria!) specifically feed on the sugars and starches in our diets.

When you introduce sugar into your mouth by eating sweet treats or drinking sugary beverages, these harmful bacteria are treated to a feast. As a byproduct of eating sugar and other carbohydrates, these harmful bacteria produce acid. This acid breaks down the mineral structure of teeth, resulting in tooth decay.

Your saliva, which contains minerals like calcium and fluoride, will naturally wash away the acid and remineralize your teeth after you’ve eaten. However, prolonged exposure to sugar (snacking over a long period of time or slowly sipping a sugary beverage) also increases the amount of time during which your teeth are exposed to acid. This can result in your saliva production not being able to keep up with the remineralization. As a result, the minerals in your teeth will break down more quickly than your body can replace them.

Left untreated, minor tooth decay (soft spots in the enamel) can worsen and develop into fully fledged cavities (also called dental caries). Cavities are holes in the teeth that, left untreated with dental fillings, will continue to grow as a result of continuing tooth decay. They can eventually become quite painful, weaken and compromise the structure of your whole tooth, and even lead to the interior and root structures of your tooth developing bacterial infections. This type of advanced infection can lead to the need for a root canal treatment.

Additionally, the more sugar inside your mouth, the more bacteria are able to thrive and multiply. This can lead to an oral infection called periodontal disease (gum disease). This infection of the gums leads to a variety of unpleasant symptoms such as bleeding, swollen, or red gums, tooth sensitivity, tooth loss, jawbone deterioration, and systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and others.

How to Mitigate the Effects of Sugar on Your Teeth

One of the best ways to reduce the effects of sugar on your teeth is simply to reduce your intake of sugary foods and drinks – especially those that are sticky in texture and cling to the surface of the teeth such as gummies and processed carbohydrates like crackers and chips.

If you do enjoy a sweet treat occasionally, that’s fine as long as you take precautions to limit the amount of time you’re eating it. Avoid sucking on hard candies for a long period of time and, if you have a sugary beverage, drink it more quickly.

After eating sugary foods or drinking a sugary beverage, rinse your mouth out with water or freshen your breath with a stick of sugar-free chewing gum that contains xylitol. This artificial sweetener actually helps combat harmful bacteria in the mouth, and chewing gum will also increase your saliva production, promoting the remineralization of your teeth.

Of course, practicing proper oral hygiene habits is an important defense, too. Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly removes the sticky, white plaque that helps harmful bacteria cling to the surfaces of your teeth. Just be sure to wait about 20 minutes after a sugary snack to brush. Brushing too soon could actually hurt your teeth. Waiting allows your saliva to properly remineralize your teeth before you brush them in a weakened, demineralized state.

Professional Preventive Dentistry to Safeguard Your Teeth From Sugar

In addition to managing your diet and practicing proper oral hygiene at home, you can also take advantage of the many professional dentistry services that are designed to help patients maintain good oral health while preventing tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.

At Smiles at the Exchange, our dentists provide a variety of preventive dentistry services including dental hygiene appointments and exams, dental sealants, and professional fluoride treatments to help patients combat the negative effects of sugar and starches in their diets. To learn more about preventive dentistry or to schedule your next dental appointment, we welcome you to contact our office today.

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