While we all love indulging in an occasional sweet, January 14-18, Sugar Awareness Week, is an important time for people to reflect on the ways that our sugar consumption can affect oral health. The average American consumes 66 pounds of added sugar each year, contributing to a number of health concerns and dramatically increasing the risk for serious tooth decay, cavities, or pain. By following our guide below, you will be equipped to protect your teeth from sugary decay, while also learning how sugar contributes to poor oral health.
How Sugar Harms Teeth
The moment you eat or drink something sugary, the process of tooth decay through acid erosion begins. Your body, specifically, the bacteria in your mouth and in plaque, digests sugar by producing acid to break it down. Over time, this acid can erode tooth enamel, exposing sensitive, painful layers of teeth, while contributing to cavity formation.
The more sugar that you consume, the more likely it will be that you will develop cavities—especially if you have lax brushing or flossing habits. Unfortunately, even when people do try to limit their sugar consumption in order to prevent enamel loss, many products contain sugar that people don’t realize is present. In the case of sweet drinks, beverages ranging from sports drinks, to diet sodas, to energy drinks, to milk could all put teeth at risk for decay, erosion of enamel, sensitivity, and cavities.
How to Prevent Tooth Decay
Fortunately, you can reverse some of the consequences of sugar consumption through a process called remineralization. Remineralization returns necessary minerals to your teeth—ones that are stripped from tooth enamel through a process called demineralization. In order to keep teeth healthy, eat less sugar and allow your mouth to rest. One easy way to stimulate remineralization is by encouraging salivation. You can easily stimulate saliva production by chewing sugarless gum or adding more fibrous fruits and vegetables to your diet.
The best preventative measures that keep your teeth healthy are maintaining good tooth-brushing and flossing routines. Using a fluoride-based toothpaste is particularly important since studies suggest that fluoride can actually reverse early stages of tooth decay. So, as always, remember to maintain a strict tooth-brushing schedule. You should also floss regularly—especially if you have braces. Food that gets trapped in the wires and brackets of braces can exacerbate the process of tooth decay and acid erosion.
Finally, stick to eating healthy foods that contain few or no added sugars, and always be sure to brush teeth after eating or drinking. By preventing a buildup of plaque and effectively brushing or flossing away sugary particles, you can keep your smile impeccable and your teeth healthy!