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Does Sugar Really Cause Tooth Decay?

Does Sugar Really Cause Tooth Decay?

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Most of us can think back to our childhoods and remember the daily admonishment about sugar and tooth decay. Eating too much candy, drinking too much soda – big no no’s for us if we want to have healthy teeth. And for those of us with children of our own, we are probably still preaching the same admonishment. But is sugar really the cause of tooth decay? Let’s take a closer look at the causes of tooth decay, and what role sugar actually plays.

What Causes Cavities?

There’s a reason why dentists recommend brushing at least twice daily, along with flossing and rinsing. It’s to wash away food particles that are left on and around our teeth and gums.

Everyone has a certain level of bacteria within their mouth. When that bacteria begins to ‘work’ on the food particles that remain on the teeth and gums after a meal, an acid is created, that is then mixed with saliva. This combination of acid and saliva is what creates the dreaded ‘P’ word – Plaque. Plaque is somewhat of a fickle thing – it doesn’t care what type of food or drinks you consume. It can be caused by anything you eat, including sugary foods, grains, fruits, vegetables – pretty much anything. The important note here is that foods that are high in carbs are more likely to cause cavities, and sugar is considered a carb. Further on in the article, we’ll take a closer look at this, but for now, we’ll continue with a top level overview of how cavities occur.

Remove Tooth Plaque

If plaque is left on your teeth, and not cleaned away by brushing and flossing, eventually the plaque will begin to eat away at your tooth enamel. Once this happens, tiny invisible holes will begin to occur. This is the beginning stages of a cavity. The problem here, is that people don’t realize when the initial stages of a cavity occur, because the tiny holes in the tooth’s enamel are invisible to the naked eye, and at this stage, don’t cause any pain or discomfort.

Next, if the plaque is allowed to continue to remain on the teeth and the tiny cavities are not fixed immediately, the plaque will continue to destroy the tooth, eventually invading the soft inner portion of the tooth called Dentin. As well, the gums may begin to show signs of gingivitis – redness, puffiness, perhaps a little ‘pink in the sink’ as they say in the commercials.

The final stage if left untreated, will be for the plaque to invade the tooth pulp, where the nerves and blood vessels are – and this is a serious situation that will lead to pain, sensitivity, and sometimes even an abscess. By this point, it’s most definitely going to be a large filling, and very often, a root canal, because too much of the tooth and its inner components have been damaged.

So, let’s get back to sugar and what role it plays in all of this…

Carbs and Cavities

There is a strong connection between carbs and tooth decay, which may have been where the idea that sugar causes cavities originated. But what most people probably don’t know, is that the acid-causing bacteria mentioned above, which can be caused by anything you eat, has a voracious appetite for any type of carb whether it’s sugar or starch. The key thing to think about here, is that there are certain types of foods that can be more naturally washed away with saliva, while other types can be sticky and cling to teeth. It has less to do with sugar content than the type of food.

Here are some of the types of foods that are surprisingly more likely to cause tooth decay than just sugary foods:

  • Any type of starchy refined carb such as chips, bread, crackers, pasta, etc.
  • Acidic foods such as citrus fruits, pickled foods etc.
  • All sodas, even if it’s diet soda (the phosphorus that causes bubbles can erode tooth enamel).
  • Foods that are sticky (because it can remain in the mouth and hide in the tiny spaces in between teeth).
  • Foods or substances that causes dry mouth (including liquor drinks and medications).

Prevention

Now that you have a better understanding of what can cause tooth decay, and now know that it’s not just sugar that’s the bad guy, there are certain things you can do to prevent tooth decay, even if you like to eat the types of foods listed above, that can raise your risk.

First and foremost, you should eat a well-balanced diet that includes fruits, veggies, lean protein, healthy fats, and dairy. It’s OK to treat yourself to your favorites in moderation. They key is in how you take care of your teeth after eating something that has a higher like hood of causing tooth decay.

Tooth Decay Prevention Tips

  • If you eat sweets, you should brush your teeth afterward, or if you’re out and can’t, at the very least, drink lots of water to help wash away the bacteria that causes plaque.
  • Should you favor acidic foods, it’s important to wait at least thirty minutes after eating them, then brush and floss. The reason you should wait, is that if you brush immediately afterward, you are essentially grinding the acids directly into your teeth. Waiting allows the natural process of salivation to help remove some of the acid from your mouth. Subsequent brushing and flossing can take care of whatever is left in your mouth.
  • Any time you eat a starchy food that can get caught between your teeth, it’s wise to floss right away to help loosen these food particles so they can be swallowed or rinsed out of your mouth.
  • Drink lots of water throughout your day. Even if you haven’t eaten something on the ‘bad’ list, water helps to keep your mouth lubricated, and proactively prevent a buildup of the bacteria that leads to plaque.

Summary

There are lots of foods that may seem healthier for your teeth than those loaded with sugar, but as you can see, even something like pasta or bread can cause tooth decay if you aren’t vigilant about your oral hygiene! Have more any questions? Contact one of our Vancouver, Kitsilano dentists today!


Contact Information
Enhance Dental Centre

2219 West Broadway,
Vancouver BC V6K 2E4

Tel: 604-733-1022
Emergencies: 778-522-2201
Email: care@enhancedentalcentre.com


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