How does sugar affect your teeth?

We all know that sugar is bad for our teeth, but understanding why it’s bad can be helpful when it comes to limiting its damage.

So, without further ado, let the science lesson commence….

Living in your mouth are thousands – or even millions – of bacteria (depending on how hot your oral hygiene is). Some types of bacteria are good for our mouths, while others are not so good. The not-so-good bacteria feed on the sugars in your diet, creating acids in the process. It’s these acids that damage your teeth, not the sugar itself.

During an ‘acid attack’ your tooth’s enamel (its protective layer) will lose valuable minerals through a process known as demineralisation. Thankfully, your body has a natural defence against demineralisation, and your own saliva can help to remineralise your teeth by neutralising any acidity.

However, if your teeth are subjected to ‘acid attacks’ repeatedly throughout the day, your natural defences will struggle to keep up, and over time a cavity, aka a small whole in your tooth, can form. While cavities can be repaired with a simple filling, the damage to your tooth is irreversible. If left untreated, cavities can develop into an infection and even cause tooth loss.

How to protect your teeth from sugar

Now that you understand how sugar damages your teeth, here’s how you can limit its impact.

1. Limit sugar to mealtimes

The simplest way to avoid sugar-related problems is to reduce your intake of sugar. Critically, it’s not just about how much sugar you’re eating, as we’ve discovered it’s the frequency that’s most important.

Whenever possible, we advise our patients to limit sugary foods to mealtimes. This includes foods that contain refined sugar, as well as high carbohydrate foods such as bread and crisps. This way, you’ll only be subjecting your teeth to a handful of ‘acid attacks’ throughout the day, giving your teeth the chance to recover and maintain a higher, happier pH.

2. Keep sugar away from your teeth

Another tip we give our patients is to limit sugar’s physical contact with your teeth. While this isn’t possible where chewable foods are concerned, if you’re drinking a sugary beverage like orange juice or cola, simply enjoy it through a straw.

This way, the sugar bypasses your front teeth, giving the bacteria lurking on them less fuel, resulting in less acid – hooray! Obviously, it won’t completely stop the problem, but it can help to lessen the severity of demineralisation.

3. Chew gum after eating

Given that saliva is your best natural defence against demineralisation, it can help to give it a boost. After eating, chewing sugar-free gum can help to stimulate your salivary glands and increase saliva flow. You should also try to avoid anything that could have the opposite effect and dehydrate your mouth, for example alcohol and alcohol-based mouthwashes.

4. Keep on top of your oral hygiene

As well as managing the sugars in your diet, it can also be helpful to control the bacteria living on your teeth. The easiest way to do this is by manually brushing them away morning and night with your toothbrush. Make sure you clean in between your teeth, too – crevices provide the perfect place for bacteria to collect and grow.

Don’t brush your teeth just after eating, when your tooth enamel will be slightly softer and more susceptible to damage. If you can brush post-sugar, it’s a great thing to do, but wait around 30 minutes.

5. See your dentist for regular check-ups

Sometimes despite our best efforts, cavities occur. In these instances, the best thing you can is catch the problem early. That’s why it’s important to see your dentist for regular check-ups.

Not only can we identify a small cavity, before it becomes a bigger problem, but we can also spot the warning signs. A build-up of plaque (a sticky film that provides a great home for bacteria) and tartar (hardened plaque) are both signs that your oral hygiene isn’t up to scratch, leaving you more at risk of sugar-related damage.

We hope you find these tips helpful. You can find more dental advice throughout our website.