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.

Why Honey Should Be Your New Best Friend

Honey is healthy, but only under certain conditions.

The health benefits of honey are numerous, extending far beyond the scope of dental health. Here are just a few:

  • When you consume honey with warm water, it aids in the digestion of fat in the body.
  • Honey has mineral and vitamin benefits, such as Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium.
  • Honey has even been shown to improve energy in athletes because of the way it helps maintain blood sugar levels, aids muscle recuperation, and assists insulin regulation.
  • As dentists, we’ve also been quick to recommend natural, organic honey to our patients because of its amazing capacity to treat gum disease and prevent tooth decay, both of which have to do with its powerful antibacterial and antiseptic properties.

Honey can be used to treat gum disease

health benefits of honeyHoney has been useful in the treatment of gum diseases including gingivitis, bleeding, and receding gums. Gingivitis is a real epidemic. 95% of adults suffer from some type of periodontal disease at least once in their lives. If it becomes severe, your teeth will begin moving out of place.  Inflammation is caused by the bacteria inhabiting an oral cavity, so the best way to prevent gingivitis is to kick out that bacteria!

Mix honey with water, and an enzyme in honey called glucose oxidase produces hydrogen peroxide (an antiseptic). The production of hydrogen peroxide is the key reason for its antimicrobial activity. Fighting the bacteria, honey reduces the amount of acid produced. The bacteria can then no longer produce dextran, a component of dental plaque.

Honey can prevent tooth decay

Dextran is a polysaccaride that bacteria produce in order to attach onto the teeth. Research from Dr. Peter C. Molan of the University of Waikato, New Zealand, showed that certain types of honey are helpful in preventing cavities because of their antimocrobial potency. You can place honey directly on the site of inflammation or infection in the mouth. The antibacterial properties of the honey will effect the flushing of the bad bacteria.

It matters WHICH honey you use.

All the research about the amazing properties of honey warns that all honey is NOT made equal. The majority of honey being sold in the US is processed or refined, which means that like any processed food, it can promote disease and damage your health. Therefore, it’s important for you to be able to distinguish which is healthy-saving, and which is healthy-damaging.

Tip 1: Stay away from honey that says ultra-filtrated. When honey is ultra-filtrated then it is impossible to know where the pollen is from. If you don’t know where the pollen is from, then it’s easy for any company to tamper with the honey. It’s also not uncommon that the honey is smuggled into the US from another country. If that’s the case, then you don’t know what is actually in that honey and you have no way to know that it isn’t diluted with corn syrup… or much worse. Honey from China has been known to have illegal antibiotics and traces of heavy metals.

Tip 2: Know where your honey comes from. Buying locally will usually ensure that you honey is safe because local farmers won’t alter it. Honey that’s put directly into the jar for selling provides the best health benefits because all components are intact. You can also pay more for Manuka honey from New Zealand, which is superior honey with incredible benefits. The FDA has even approved it for use in burn healing.

In conclusion: honey’s properties are amazing for your body and for your dental health. But do your homework before you begin consuming it. Make sure you’re getting the most natural, whole honey that you can, which hasn’t been processed or refined in any way. Your gums and teeth will thank you!