It’s October, which means that soon you and your kids will be thinking about costumes, class parties, and of course, trick-or-treating! Candy and cavities have a long-standing relationship—one you most likely remind your kids about when they come home to sort through their Halloween haul, but what are the effects of sugar on our teeth?
It might surprise you to know that sugar itself is not the destructive element, but the effects that follow after eating something high in sugar. Our mouths are full of hundreds of bacteria, many of which are necessary in aiding digestion and overall oral health. However, certain oral bacteria feed on sugar and create an acidic byproduct that is damaging to the tooth enamel, the glossy protective layer of the tooth. These acids eventually create a hole which is commonly referred to as a cavity. If a cavity goes untreated, it can invade the deeper layers of the tooth, causing acute pain or even tooth loss.
Since sugars occur in most foods naturally, our teeth are subject to these acids on a regular basis. Fortunately for us, our saliva is rich in calcium and phosphates that help to repair the teeth using a process known as remineralization. Fluoride also helps to repair enamel, which is why it’s important that the toothpastes you use contain fluoride.
With all of these defense systems in place for our teeth, you may be wondering if sugar is harmful at all.
Remineralization and fluoride can only do so much to help your teeth and they take time to work effectively. If sugar and sweets are a large part of your diet, your natural defenses don’t have a chance to prevent that harmful bacteria from damaging your teeth. So, while sugar itself isn’t directly harmful to your teeth, limiting your intake and brushing away bacteria and plaque is vital to preventing cavities.
Other ways to improve your oral health include stimulating saliva flow and eating foods containing calcium and phosphates. Chewing sugarless gum and eating plenty of fibrous foods helps you salivate. Substituting dairy products and nuts for sugary snacks ups your calcium and phosphate intake. Green and black teas also keep harmful bacteria at bay.
So, eat your Halloween candy, throw in some fruits and vegetables, and always remember to brush. As always, proper diligence when cleaning your own teeth, as well as regular visits to your dentist are the best ways to ensure long-term oral health.