Ever wonder how the sugar plum fairies have it in for your teeth? After all, their appearance in renditions of the Nutcracker is quite lovely, and they taste great!
With the holiday blizzards of sugar flying around, Dr. Lemire, your Coos Bay dentist, hopes to explain a little bit about why sugar is actually pretty bad for your teeth. It’s easy to say “don’t eat sugar,” but it makes a lot more sense if you understand the reasons behind that strong stance!
At Lori Lemire Family Dentistry, patient education is one of the pillars on which our clinical philosophy is based. We want to work together with you for great oral health! So, here we go….
The sugar around us
Sugar is in a lot of things we eat. Sometimes it’s an added ingredient, but even if we’re making heroic efforts to eat healthy during this holiday season, we’ll still be consuming sugar. Sugar exists naturally in fruits and some vegetables, and more complex carbohydrates break down into simpler sugars when the digestive process begins in our mouths (for example, amylase, on of the digestive enzymes present in our mouths, breaks down carbohydrates into glucose and maltose, two sugars).
Fortunately, our bodies are equipped to deal with the small amount of sugar that comes from a healthy diet. Our saliva both washes away excess food and has antimicrobial properties that put a stop to bacterial activity spurred by a meal. We do have quite a bit of bacteria in our mouths (around 600 species), and some scientists believe that commensal species also help in keeping cavity-causing bacteria in check.
When things go wrong
Cavities don’t usually happen on a healthy diet (although, without proper oral hygiene, this can happen). But they can happen– easily, when we’re eating a lot of food with added sugar: soda and candy are obvious culprits, but a lot of processed foods contain high amounts of sugar as well! And unfortunately, the amount of high-sugar, processed food being consumed by Americans is rising.
You may be asking… so, does sugar itself attack my teeth? The answer is no, it does not. Sugar is food for cavity causing bacteria. When you eat sugar, your mouth becomes the perfect environment for these bacteria to flourish… full of food, warm, wet, and dark– what bacterium could ask for more?
Presented with this delightful situation, bacteria eat up the sugar and metabolize it rapidly– and the bacterial metabolic byproduct of sugar is acid. Even though it is the hardest substance in your body, acid is like kryptonite to your dental enamel. It slowly eats away at your enamel while bacteria continue eat more and more sugar, metabolizing it into more acid and reproducing like… well, like bacteria.
Sugar can taste delicious, but when you know what it’s doing, it really can have an impact on your sweet tooth– don’t you think?
Sweets to really watch for:
- Soda. Sipping soda keeps your mouth bathed in both sugar and acid– avoid it!
- Sticky. Gum drops, taffy– any sticky, chewy candies you eat can get stuck to your teeth and continue to feed bacteria long after you’ve enjoyed them.
- Sour. Sour candies contain acid as well as sugar, making them twice as bad for your teeth!
Let the holidays be sweet…
…without sugar! We hope this was a helpful introduction into how sugar works against our oral health. If you have any questions, we’d love to speak with you on the phone or at your next appointment with Dr. Lori Lemire, your favorite Coos Bay dentist!