image of granulated sugar pouring onto a wooden spoon against a black background


How Does Sugar Affect Your Teeth?

We’re all warned against sugar and the impact it can have on your teeth, but did you know exactly why sugar is as bad for you as you’re told?

Sugar in food and drink plays a significant role in the development of tooth decay, or dental caries. Caries occur when acid in the mouth attacks the enamel and dentine of your teeth and causes holes – or cavities – to form. The acid is produced by bacteria found within plaque, a thin, sticky film that forms over the teeth. 

So how does sugar come into it? 

When sugar is consumed it interacts with these acid-producing bacteria, causing them to release the acid in the first place. Bacteria in plaque use sugar as energy and the resultant waste product is the acid that erodes your teeth.

Free sugars are now found in almost all foods, and are one of the leading factors in the deterioration of our oral health. It’s a particularly large problem for children, who are now becoming accustomed to sugar at an early age. In fact, tooth decay is the leading cause of hospitalisation in children aged 5-9 in the UK. Up to 26,000 children are hospitalised each year – that’s 500 a week, just for tooth decay.

Dietary habits that cause tooth decay

Consuming high-sugar snacks

Many studies have found that the frequent consumption of sweets and sugary snacks can lead to cavities. Frequent sugary snacking increases the amount of time your teeth are exposed to the damaging effects of various acids.

Drinking sugary drinks

This can be anything from sugary soft drinks, to sports drinks, to energy drinks and juices. In addition to sugar, these beverages also contain high levels of acids that can also contribute to decay. 

A study in Finland suggested that drinking 1-2 sugary beverages a day was linked to a 31% increase in the risk of cavities. Another study involving over 20,000 adults found that just one occasional sugary drink resulted in a 44% higher risk of losing anywhere between 1 and 5 teeth, compared to those who drank no sugary drinks. 

Equally, research has shown that the way you drink can also affect your risk of developing cavities. A study showed that holding sugar-sweetened drinks in your mouth for prolonged periods or constant sipping increased risk of cavities, because it exposes teeth to sugar for a longer time, giving damaging bacteria more time to harm your teeth.

How to minimise the damage

Of course, cutting down on sugar is the best thing you can do, but its unrealistic to eliminate sugar from your diet completely, so there’ other ways of preventing damage.

The best you can do is be mindful of your sugar intake, brush after eating sugar food with a fluoride toothpaste, and eat a healthy, balanced diet full of foods that benefit your teeth. Keep up with regular dental check-ups, too, to catch problems in their infancy and nip them in the bud. 

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