How Does Sugar Affect Teeth?

Thursday, April 26, 2018
How Does Sugar Affect Teeth?

Discover 5 Foods High in Sugar and Learn Tips for Mitigating Sugar’s Impact

While you are probably aware that sugar has an impact on your teeth, you may not know that sugar itself isn’t the culprit. The events following sugar’s introduction into your mouth are responsible for how sugar affects teeth.

This article explains the effect of sugar on your teeth and the steps you can take to avoid tooth decay. If you have kids, check out this article from the ADA about how to reduce sugary snacking!

How Does Sugar Affect Teeth?

Sugar in itself isn’t what destroys your teeth, but it’s a magnet for the bacteria that do.

How-Does-Sugar-Affect-TeethTwo destructive bacteria live in our mouths: Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sorbrinus. Any time you eat something with sugar, the s. mutans bacteria jumps into action to break down the sugar. During this process, an acid is secreted. That acid dissolves tooth enamel, creating little wedges in the teeth where more bacteria can reside.

We see the activity of these bacteria in the dental plaque that forms on the surface of the teeth. If it’s not removed by brushing and flossing, that plaque can harden into tartar in just a day. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film that forms on the surface of your teeth.

When plaque is not washed out by saliva, brushing, and flossing, the environment becomes more acidic, causing tooth decay. Research has found that about 92% of adults in the United States have experienced tooth decay at some point in their lives. While sugar itself isn’t the culprit of tooth decay, limiting the amount of sugar in our diets is an easy way to keep the bacteria that cause decay away.

5 Foods with More Sugar Than You’d Imagine

We have a few tips up our sleeve to help you reduce the harmful ways in which sugar affects your teeth. Before we get into those, it’s important to be aware of the foods that have a high sugar content. It probably goes without saying that soda and candy consumption should be minimized to decrease your teeth’s exposure to the damaging effects of sugar. But what about the invisible culprits, those foods that you maybe didn’t know had a lot of sugar? Here’s a list of 5 foods with a higher sugar content than you might expect:

  1. Yogurt. Though we often think of yogurt as being on the “good foods” list, it may not be if you’re buying flavored yogurts (anything with added fruit, chocolate, caramels, etc.) Flavored yogurts can pack as much as 28 grams of sugar per 6-ounce serving! Read the ingredient list and compare with plain, unsweetened yogurt. Our recommendation: buy plain yogurt and add your own fresh or frozen fruit for flavor!
  2. Canned soup. You might have heard that they’re high in sodium, but many canned soups also add sugar as a preservative to extend shelf life. Some have up to 15 grams of sugar per 1.5 cups.
  3. Salad dressing. Many dressings contain up to 4 grams of sugar per tablespoon! Be especially careful when you come across fat-free or light dressing, which use sugar to compensate for the flavor lost when the fat is cut out.
  4. Tomato sauce. Sugar is almost always added to commercial tomato sauces. Check the ingredient list to see how it compares with the other options in grams per cup. Sometimes, the sugar is listed as corn syrup.
  5. Granola bars. They sound a lot healthier than they often are. Granola bars can be little more than glorified candy bars with up to 11 grams of sugar per bar. If you see sugar among the top 3 ingredients (sugar also goes by “cane syrup” or “brown rice syrup”), you’re better off eating a handful of nuts and dried fruit.

Tips for Mitigating the Impact of Sugar

If you have a sweet tooth and just must treat yourself, there are a few easy ways you can alleviate the harm sugar can do to your teeth:

  • Don’t sip sugary drinks. The more time your teeth are exposed to the sugar contained in soda or juices, the more damage it can do. If you drink a soda, it’s better to drink it on the fast side, as opposed to slowly sipping.
  • Wash it down with water. If you’ve decided to treat yourself to cake or the occasional sugary snack, you can mitigate the inevitable effects on your teeth by drinking a glass of water afterwards. The water will wash most of the sugar off your teeth, acting as a natural cleaning agent.
  • Brush your teeth in the morning, after lunch, and at night before bed. Brushing regularly is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your teeth from sugar. It takes relatively little time in your day, leaves your mouth refreshed, and goes a long way towards protecting you from dental caries!
  • Be sure to floss. Flossing is often overlooked, perhaps because many people are under the mistaken impression that its sole purpose is to remove chunks of food from between teeth. The real reason why you should floss is to remove plaque. If you notice bleeding when you floss, then that means the bacteria are particularly active on your gums. Take steps to protect against gum disease.

Schedule Your Annual Appointment

If it’s been awhile since you’ve visited the dentist, then we invite you to take this opportunity to get checked out. Dental cleanings are instrumental in keeping the bacteria at bay. No dental visit can substitute for the important habit of daily brushing and flossing, but it can set you on the right track by removing the tartar you can’t clean off with your toothbrush! Cleanings are also important occasions to track your oral health and catch any incipient problems before they become serious.

Trust the experience and high quality care from the dentists and staff at Penn Dental Family Practice. To make an appointment, please call our office at 215-898-7337.