According to the World Health Organization, 60-90 percent of children and nearly 100 percent of adults around the world have dental cavities!
One of the main risk factors for poor oral health is an unhealthy diet, particularly one that is high in sugar.
While just about everyone loves sugar, it’s not doing us, or our teeth, any favors. Keep reading to learn how your sweet tooth could be negatively affecting the health and appearance of your smile.
How Sugar Affects Dental Health
You’ve probably heard a million times that sugar will rot your teeth. But how does this actually happen?
It’s All About Bacteria
Basically, there several different kinds of bacteria that live in your mouth. While some benefit your dental health, others can damage your teeth.
The two most destructive types of bacteria that live in your mouth are known as Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sorbrinus.
These harmful bacteria produce acid, which removes minerals from your teeth, weakening them and making your more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities.
What helps the bacteria produce the acid? You guessed it — sugar.
Types of Sugar and What They Do to Your Teeth
Sugar comes in many different forms, and each one has a different effect on your teeth. Some of the main types you should be familiar with include:
Of all the different types of sugar out there, sucrose is probably the most well-known.
Sucrose is the type of sugar you probably have in your pantry right now. It’s made up of glucose and fructose (more on them in a minute) and is found in most kinds of candy. It’s also the sweetest of the sugars.
Many scientists believe that sucrose is the easiest type of sugar for oral bacteria to convert into a kind of glue that helps plaque stick to the teeth. This glue is also what makes plaque more difficult to remove.
Fructose can be found in fruit, corn, and root vegetables like sweet potatoes. It’s not as sweet a sucrose on its own, but it becomes sweeter when concentrated into high fructose corn syrup, a popular sweetener added to sodas and fruit juices.
Fruit (and fructose) is not considered harmful to the teeth unless it’s consumed in excessive amounts. However, many dentists think that high fructose corn syrup is more harmful to the teeth than plain fructose.
All other types of sugar are broken down into glucose, the body’s main energy source.
Of all the sugars, glucose is the least harmful to the teeth, and it’s better for our overall health. The acids produced by glucose can be neutralized fairly quickly, so the damage is not as severe as what is caused by other sugars.
Lactose, also known as milk sugar, is made up of galactose and glucose. Lactose isn’t sweet like other sugars and is found in dairy products like milk and cheese.
It’s easy to forget that lactose is a type of sugar since it isn’t sweet, but it can still be broken down by bacteria like other sugars to produce acid, although not as much as sucrose or high fructose corn syrup.
Finally, maltose is found in grains and drinks like beer. Maltose doesn’t taste sweet, like lactose, but it can also be broken down to form acids that can damage the teeth when left to their own devices.
Do I Have to Cut Out All of These Sugars?
As you can see, sugar is pretty much everywhere. The main types of sugar you should be worried about are the sweet ones — sucrose and high fructose corn syrup.
However, it’s important to be aware of the effects that all sugars have on our teeth so we can take steps to avoid cavities and tooth decay.
After consuming any of these sugars, especially lactose and maltose, which are less harmful, you can minimize their effects by rinsing out your mouth with water. This won’t completely eliminate the damage, of course, but it’s better than just letting sugar hang out on your teeth.
Tips for Kicking Your Sweet Tooth
Ok, so you’re convinced that your sweet tooth could be negatively impacting your dental health. But how do you ditch the sugar and save your teeth?
These tried and true tips will help you cut sugar out for good.
Know Where to Find Hidden Sugars
Sugar is hidden in all kinds of foods and drinks. Apple juice can contain just as much sugar as soda!
It’s also found in salad dressings and sauces, especially tomato and barbecue sauce. Be sure to read the label and avoid options that have added sugar.
Sugar goes by many names, too, such as high fructose corn syrup and agave, so you have to be extra vigilant when scouring labels for signs of extra sweet stuff.
Eat Full-fat Foods
When foods are labeled “fat-free” or “low-fat,” they often contain excess sugar so that they don’t lose their flavor. You’re better off eating full-fat foods if you’re looking for ways to cut out sugar.
Simplify Your Diet
As you can see, it’s easy to consume more sugar than you realize. One of the best ways to set yourself up for success when working on curbing your sweet tooth is to keep your diet as simple as possible.
Opt for foods that you can easily recognize and look for short ingredients lists at the grocery store. Remember, if you can’t pronounce it, it probably shouldn’t go in your body!
Don’t Go Cold Turkey
When you realize all the harm that sugar can cause to your teeth (and the rest of your body), it’s tempting to go cold turkey and cut it out all at once.
This works for some people. But, others find that the cravings, headaches, and lethargy that comes with cutting out sugar are too much, and they end up eating more than they would have normally.
Work on taking small steps (like avoiding soda for a week) to build long-lasting habits.
Finally, be patient. It takes time to kick any habit, especially one like eating sugar.
It can take up to eight weeks to get sugar out of your system and give your sweet tooth the boot. It won’t be easy, but your teeth will definitely thank you!
Other Benefits of Giving Up Sugar
Need more incentive to kick your sweet tooth to the curb? Besides healthier teeth, giving up sugar comes with the following benefits:
- Better skin: Too much sugar can lead to wrinkles and visible aging signs
- Less belly fat: Sugary foods and drinks are often calorie bombs that can quickly expand your waistline
- Healthier heart: People who eat less sugar are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease
- Decreased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: High-sugar diets promote insulin resistance and the likelihood of developing diabetes
Even if you don’t care about your dental health, there are clearly plenty of reasons to ditch sugar!
How to Revamp Your Smile
If you’ve been eating sugar for quite a while (and, let’s face it, who hasn’t been?), your teeth have probably taken a beating.
Luckily, there are lots of simple things you can do to remineralize your teeth and get a healthier smile. It’s never too late to start working on undoing the damage sugar has caused.
Stimulate Saliva Flow
Your saliva plays a major role in reversing the damage caused to the teeth by acids produced by the bacteria in your mouth. Saliva contains calcium and phosphates that help repair the teeth.
In order to prevent cavities and promote remineralization, you should try to increase the production and flow of your saliva. Some things you can do include chewing sugarless gum and consuming more fibrous fruits and vegetables.
Eat More Calcium
Dairy products do contain sugar, but they also contain calcium and phosphates that are needed to strengthen your teeth. They’re also much better overall for your health than sugar or starchy snacks.
Have a Cup (or Two) of Tea
Black and green tea has been found to suppress the harmful bacteria found in the mouth.
Drink a few cups throughout the day, without adding any sugar, obviously, to balance out the bacteria and prevent further damage to your teeth.
Get Fluoride Treatments
Fluoride prevents and reverses the early stages of tooth decay. Drink fluoridated water and brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste. This will help eliminate bacteria that depend on sugar.
You can also get fluoride treatments from your dentist as an added defense mechanism.
One good brushing or fluoride treatment won’t automatically undo years’ worth of sugar damage. It’s important to make these tips a regular part of your routine if you really want to see an improvement in your smile!
Need Some Extra Help?
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