Sugar: What does it do to your teeth?

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General Dental Care
BOH (DentSci), Grad.Dip.Dent (Qld)

DA22875Sugar is more than just “a treat on your lips that goes straight to your hips”.

To understand how sugar really affects your teeth, one has to understand how caries/decay/cavities come about.

Caries is a highly prevalent, chronic dental disease that causes destruction of tooth surfaces. It is a multifactorial infection that occurs due to demineralisation (loss of mineral) in the enamel and dentine (hard tissues of your teeth). This demineralisation is caused by organic acids produced by bacteria that reside in dental plaque. Numerous factors are involved in the caries process – including dietary habits, saliva, bacteria, oral hygiene and your own individual susceptibility.

Sugar is undoubtedly the most important dietary factor in this caries process.

How is sugar related to caries?

Sugar, or any fermentable carbohydrate, is the most important food source for oral bacterial metabolism, which results in the production of acid, mainly lactic acid. This literally dissolves your teeth. Not only do these acids destroy your teeth; they also create an acidic environment that further assists growth and metabolism of these cavity-causing bacteria.

By “fermentable carbohydrate”, I mean any type of sugar or cooked starch that is are digested by oral bacteria to produce acids. This is not limited to sucrose; it includes fructose and glucose. All fermentable carbohydrates are involved in the caries process to some degree, but sucrose remains the biggest offender as it not only allows bacteria to produce acid but also facilitates attachment of even more bacteria. Complex carbohydrates, such as starch, interact with bacteria to a lesser extent and are thus less acid producing. The frequency, quantity, duration and physical form of dietary sugars all influence the caries process.

Once sugar has dissolved your tooth structure to the extent that a cavity is formed (which often results in pain), the damage is irreparable and needs a restoration (filling), or possibly more extensive treatment, in order to prevent the progression of disease.

Many people are unaware of the numerous hidden sugars found in foods and drinks, and that is why diet assessment and modification are an important part of the comprehensive treatment we offer at Smile Solutions.

So next time you reach for that sugary treat, think not only of your waistline but also your smile line!

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