It has long been established that sugar is harmful for our teeth and this is something that our parents, and their parents before them understood. Many of us will have heard this from numerous sources and accept it without really understanding why.
We also probably consume far more sugar than we think we actually do. In today’s Sync Dental Centres blog, we look in more depth at the problems surrounding sugar in the diet of our Addlestone dental patients.
Why is it harmful?
Sugar is bad for your teeth, but why?
Few people probably realise this, but it isn’t really the sugar that damages your teeth. Without it though, any damage would be far less. The reason for this is that sugar is not the active element that harms your teeth but is the fuel for that element, namely some types of oral bacteria.
There are thought to be over 700 strains of bacteria that are alive in our mouths at any given time, with up to 1 billion bacteria on each tooth if the mouth is not kept thoroughly clean. Even where good oral practice is carried out, there are thought to be up to 100,000 living on each tooth surface. Not all of these bacteria are harmful by any stretch, and some fulfil important roles in helping us to break down and digest our food.
These bacteria cannot survive in a void though and require fuel to be able to live. Have you guessed the fuel source yet? Correct; it is sugar. As the bacteria consume the sugar, they produce acids and it is this that damages the enamel on your teeth, eventually leading to cavities in the tooth. When this happens, you are likely to need an invasive dental procedure such as a filling or even a root canal treatment.
Where does the sugar come from?
Perhaps understandably, some people think that if they don’t add sugar to tea or coffee, and don’t eat sweets, they will be fine, Sadly this is not the case and most of us consume far more sugar than we think we do. Sugar is everywhere. It is present in obvious places such as sweets and fizzy drinks (especially harmful as they are also acidic), but it is also present in many products that you simply wouldn’t expect.
Sugar is used to both flavour and help preserve some convenience foods and this means that the more of these we eat, the more likely it is that our sugar consumption will rise. Sugar is also present in healthy foods such as fruit. Even if we avoid products that contain sugar though, we will not escape.
It is not just sugar that sustains bacteria, many other carbohydrates do too and as you have probably guessed, they are everywhere. Carbohydrates are present in many staple foods including bread, pasta and potatoes. Given the prevalence of both sugars and starches, you might feel justified in asking how we can prevent tooth decay at all.
Keep the sugar down and……
Just because it is next to impossible to avoid sugar and starches doesn’t mean that there should be a ‘free for all; when it comes to sugar consumption. As we noted at the start, the number of bacteria on a tooth surface can vary between 100,000 to one billion, depending on how clean they are. This means that whilst both teeth do have bacteria on them, the one with the higher figure, i.e. the one less well looked after, is almost certainly going to decay faster and perhaps more extensively. It does make sense, therefore, to monitor your sugar use.
Even that 100,000 bacteria will cause damage to our teeth if we fail to keep them clean. The advice for this is fairly well known and the key point in that is to brush our teeth twice a day and to do so correctly, with a relatively new brush and angling it so that it reaches beneath the gum lines.
Sugar and bacteria, especially if consumed in sticky products, will also collect between the teeth where a brush may not reach. It is for this reason that we ask our patients to also floss on a daily basis before going to bed at night. This simple action will contribute to better oral health and avoidance of both tooth decay and gum disease.
Both dental and hygienist visits should be made to our Addlestone practice on a regular basis. For most people this will be six monthly, although some, such as smokers and those with diabetes, will benefit from more regular visits.
It doesn’t matter how well you brush your teeth at home; everybody needs to see a dentist who can monitor aspects of your oral health that you simply can’t. You might be able to see that your teeth look white when you look in the mirror, but you won’t be able to see those tiny cavities that are just starting at the rear of the back teeth. Detecting these early on means that any treatment that is needed will be less extensive than if ignored until it is more problematic.
If you would like to register as a patient at the Sync Dental Centres, or to make an appointment if you are already registered with us, please call us today on 01932 856541.