Dental caries are caused by sugar. It makes no difference whether it is refined sugar, unrefined sugar or honey. They are all the same when it comes to causing tooth decay. Because of their stickiness, “natural” foods sweetened with honey are often more dangerous than other sugar-containing foods. Get in the habit of reading labels when you shop for groceries: honey, molasses, glucose, fructose, maple syrup, corn syrup, dextrose are all types of sugar.
When you eat or drink sugary foods, the bacteria in your mouth combines with the sugar to create an acidic environment. Over time, this acid attacks the tooth enamel and leads to decay. When eating or drinking, keep two things in mind:
- How OFTEN you eat sugar (frequency)
- How LONG it stays in your mouth (duration)
The danger of sweetened or sports drinks is often underestimated. Soft drinks often contain as much as 11 teaspoons of sugar per serving, according to the American Dental Association. In addition, soft drinks are also acidic. Switching to a “diet” version may contain less sugar but they still have phosphoric and citric acid, which can erode teeth over time. Baby bottle caries are a classic example of the damage caused by milk or juice in direct contact with primary teeth, during the day or overnight.
If you or your child drink fruit juices or soft drinks, do so in limited amounts, rinse your mouth with water, brush your teeth or chew a piece of sugarless gum to minimize the frequency and duration that sugar remains in contact with your teeth.
- Avoid sticky sweets — they cling to teeth and are hard to brush away
- Eat sweets with a meal, not as a snack. The increased flow of saliva during a meal helps to wash away and dilute sugar.
- Brush after eating sweets. If you can’t brush, rinse your mouth with water, eat an apple or raw vegetables or chew a piece of sugarless gum.
- Water is the best drink between meals and a healthy part of daily nutrition. Water is the only liquid that should be kept bedside for those who get thirsty at night
With good dental hygiene and attention to diet, we can keep our teeth for life.