Now that Halloween has come and gone and the winter holiday season is getting underway, you might see a dramatic increase in the number of sweet treat, whether holiday-themed cakes or cookies. While it can be hard to resist the allure of such treats, limiting the amount of sugar in your diet will be good news not only for your waistline, but also for your teeth.
Sugar is connected to tooth decay and cavities, which, along with gum disease, are among the most common dental problems people experience. Since you most likely eat a variety of nutrients and ingredients each day, you might wonder why sugar is singled out as being particularly problematic for your teeth. The way sugar (and other types of carbohydrates) interacts with the bacteria found in your mouth makes it more likely to contribute to decay than other nutrients such as protein and fat.
Sugar and Bacteria
People aren’t the only organisms that enjoy eating sugar. The bacteria found in everyone’s mouths also enjoy sugar. The more sugar in your diet, the more the bacteria have to feed on.
A particular variety of bacteria, Streptococcus mutans, is generally responsible for causing cavities and decay of the teeth. Although there are thousands of types of bacteria found in the mouth, it is Streptococcus m that produces lactic acid through a process called glycolysis. The lactic acid decreases the pH of the mouth, creating a more acidic environment. In that environment, the tooth’s enamel becomes weaker and is more likely to dissolve, creating a cavity.
Sugar and Tooth Decay
Although sugar was not always considered the sole cause of tooth decay, a study published in 2014 in BMC Public Health put forth that sugar was the only thing that contributed to decay. The study looked at the public health records of people around the world. It found that tooth decay is the leading non-infectious disease in certain areas, especially the United States. According to the study, between 60 and 90 percent of children have tooth decay in the U.S. Ninety-two percent of adults in the U.S. have some amount of tooth decay.
In contrast to people in the U.S., people living in parts of the world where sugar isn’t a big part of the diet were less likely to have tooth decay. For example, just 2 percent of people in Nigeria had tooth decay. Many Nigerians don’t eat much, if any, sugar in their diets.
Cutting Back on Sugar
One of the best ways to protect the teeth from decay is to cut back on sugar. The World Health Organization updated its sugar guidelines in March 2014. While the WHO once recommended that people get no more than 10 percent of their daily calories from sugar, it decreased that amount to no more than 5 percent. Cutting sugar intake will not only help protect against decay, but also against excessive weight gain and obesity.
The WHO’s sugar recommendation is drastically lower than the amount the average person eats in one day. While it can be difficult to cut back on the amount of sugar you eat, it is one of the best things to do for the health of your teeth. One easy place to start is with the beverages you drink, such as juice and soda. Sugar in liquid form tends to be more damaging to the teeth. Try replacing the soda or juice you drink with water to cut back on sugar.
Other Ways to Protect Your Teeth
Cutting back on sugar is just the starting point. You can also reduce your risk for tooth decay by being more proactive about caring for your teeth. Reduce the amount of time sugar spends on your teeth by rinsing your mouth with water after meals or after eating a snack. Brush your teeth after eating and floss between the teeth daily to remove any bits of food that might be stuck there.
You can also strengthen the enamel of your teeth to better protect them against the decay-causing effects of sugar. Use a fluoride toothpaste to improve the enamel, for example. Eating foods that contain a lot of calcium, such as cheese and other dairy products, will also give your enamel a boost.
Regular checkups with your dentist or periodontist will help you spot any signs of tooth decay or gum disease before they become a major issue. If you live in the Miami area and are concerned about the state of your teeth or the amount of sugar in your diet, Dr. John Paul Gallardo and Dr. William Lamas are here to help. Call their practice today at (305) 447-1447 to schedule an appointment and protect your teeth and gums.