You've probably heard that too much sugar is bad for your teeth, but you may be less clear about why.
Sugar does not directly damage teeth, but it is a major contributing factor for oral health problems such as tooth decay and tooth wear, gum disease and eventually tooth loss. And the more sugar you consume, the worse these problems can be.
Tooth decay and tooth wear
When you consume food or drink that contains sugar (especially processed sugar), this feeds bacteria in your mouth that can build up in a sticky layer on your teeth, known as dental plaque. These bacteria then convert this this sugar into acids that are released on tooth surfaces and can cause the protective enamel to soften and break down over time, the process of tooth decay.
If tooth decay isn't treated in time, it can lead to cavities forming in the tooth, that may need to be treated with a filling, or may expose the soft pulp inside the tooth to infection, which may need a root canal treatment. A tooth that is too badly damaged by decay may need an extraction.
Signs that you or your child might have tooth decay include:
- Tooth pain or sensitivity to temperature
- White or discoloured spots or bands on teeth, close to the gums
- You can see or feel a cavity
Sugar can also damage your gums if plaque builds up around the gumline and bacteria infect or irritate the gum tissue, causing an inflammation reaction.
In the early stage of gum disease (gingivitis), your gums may be sore or swollen. This can usually be treated through a combination of hygiene treatments at a dental clinic and improving your oral hygiene at home. However, if gingivitis develops into more severe periodontitis, this can eventually lead to permanent damage, such as gum recession or tooth loss.
Signs of gum disease can include:
- Red, swollen, tender or itchy gums
- Gums bleeding when you brush and floss your teeth
- Bad breath or bad taste in your mouth
How to cut down on sugar
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting sugar to 5% of your daily energy intake – roughly 30g (7 teaspoons) per day for an adult or between 19g and 24g (5-6 teaspoons) per day for children aged 4 to 12, depending on their age.
Unfortunately, most Australians consume too much sugar, which harms our teeth and contributes to other problems, such as obesity. To reduce your sugar intake, check food and drink packaging for sugar content, including 'hidden' sugars listed under different names, and choose those with low added sugar.
As well as avoiding sugary snacks like biscuits, cakes and lollies, many drinks are also high in sugar and acids that wear down teeth, including soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices and cordials. Whole fruits containing natural sugars are less damaging to teeth and contribute valuable vitamins for a healthy diet.
How to protect your teeth
You can try to reduce the effects of sugar on your teeth by:
- Rinsing your mouth with plain water after sugary snacks or drinks
- Having sugary food or drinks at mealtimes rather than throughout the day, to limit exposure to your teeth
- Drinking through a straw and not holding drinks in your mouth before swallowing
- Brushing your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily
- Visiting a dentist every 6 to 12 months for a check-up and clean
See a dentist in Brisbane
If you're worried about tooth decay or want more advice about your teeth or your kids' teeth, book an appointment at your local Swish Dental clinic in Brisbane for a comprehensive check-up and clean or treatments from our experienced dentists.