Sugar can be a valuable source of energy for the body, but too much sugar is bad for health, contributing to a range of problems from diabetes to obesity. As teeth are in the firing line, they're often the first casualty.
Knowing what sugar does to your teeth and which food and drink are the worst offenders can help you to make positive changes and lower your overall health risks.
How does sugar damage your teeth?
When you feed on sugar, so do bacteria in your mouth. Plaque is a film of bacteria that can build up on teeth over time. These bacteria consume sugar and other carbohydrates in food and drink and release acids.
This acid weakens and gradually wears down the hard enamel surface of teeth, exposing the sensitive and yellow dentine layer underneath. Over time, this can lead to cavities or holes forming in the teeth, which may need a filling to repair. This is the process of tooth decay, also called dental caries.
What are the worst foods and drinks for teeth?
Many foods and drinks naturally contain sugar, including fresh fruit and milk. These are recommended in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Unfortunately, processed sugar is added to many foods and drinks where it does more harm than good, especially when consumed in large quantities and without effective oral care.
Food and drink with high acidity also contributes to tooth decay by accelerating erosion, especially when combined with sugar.
Some of the worst food and drinks for teeth are:
- Between-meals snacks such as lollies, cakes and biscuits
- Sticky sweets and dried fruit that cling to the surface of teeth
- Soft drinks, sports drinks and fruit juice that are high in sugar and acid
Snacking or taking sips of sugary and acidic drinks between meals is especially bad for your teeth, as the enamel will be exposed to acid attacks more frequently without the chance to recover.
How to prevent tooth decay
Children and adults can avoid tooth decay and related oral and general health problems by cutting down on sugary drinks and snacks and swapping them for healthy alternatives.
If you do want to consume these foods and drinks, you can reduce their effect on your teeth by:
- having them at the same time as meals, rather than in-between
- drinking through a straw to reduce contact with your teeth
- rinsing your mouth with water afterwards, especially tap water containing fluoride
Brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing once a day will help to remove plaque and leftover food. You shouldn't brush your teeth straight after eating or drinking, as the enamel will still be weakened by acid and could be damaged.
It's also important to keep up with your regular dental visits so your dentist can check your mouth for any signs of problems and a hygienist can professionally clean and scale your teeth. As children's teeth are more prone to decay, your child's dentist may recommend preventive treatments such as sealants to protect them against plaque.
If you or your family are due for a check-up and clean, or you want to talk to a dentist in Brisbane for advice about your oral health, make an appointment with Swish Dental today. Call our clinic in Everton Park on (07) 3355 1422 or our Mitchelton clinic on (07) 3354 3341.
Better Health Channel. Sugar [Online] 2011 [Accessed April 2019] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/sugar
Australian Dental Association. What are sugary drinks doing to your body? [Online] 2017 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: http://www.rethinksugarydrink.org.au/facts/tooth-decay.html
Healthdirect. How to cut down on sugar [Online] 2018 [Accessed April 2019] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/cutting-down-on-sugars