The Relationship Between Sugar and Tooth Decay

tooth decay

Until about the 18th century, food was produced and prepared with next-to-no added sugar. Since then, sugar beets have been grown and harvested around the world, and now virtually everything we consume, from cereal in the morning to salad at night, contains added sugar. The bacteria on our teeth can count themselves lucky to live in the 21st century, there is an almost unlimited supply of free food for them to thrive on. Bacteria LOVE sugar! Unchecked bacteria and plaque on teeth cause dental decay.

We cannot avoid bacteria. When we breathe, bacteria enter the mouth and attach themselves to everything, including our teeth. In fact, it is believed there are more microcosms in the mouth than there are people on the entire planet. Tooth decay, or dental caries, is caused by prolonged exposure to acids produced by bacteria in the mouth. Sugar is the main culprit in tooth decay because that is what the bacteria eat. If left to sit on your teeth, bacteria produce acids which can eat at the enamel of your teeth, 24 hours a day unless interrupted by brushing, until eventually a hole or cavity develops in the tooth.

When we do not regularly brush and clean our teeth we are aiding bacteria and sugar in their war on our enamel. Leaving bacteria to peacefully feed upon sugar and continue to produce acids in your mouth allows plaque to form. Plaque is an often-visible organized colony of bacteria and damaging acids that collects between the gums and our teeth. The acids, left to sit on the surface of our teeth, will eat at their protective enamel creating tooth decay, or demineralization.

The protective outer tissue of our teeth, the enamel, is 95% mineral which makes it very hard but also vulnerable to acid. The inner tissue of each tooth, dentin, is a little softer because it is only 66% mineral. Normally, our saliva is a natural remineralizer when acids have begun demineralizing tissues, but when plaque is allowed to settle-in, saliva is almost powerless to repair the damage. Acids only need to eat a tiny hole in our tooth enamel, once in, they are able to accelerate through the softer tissue of the dentin and begin decaying the tooth tissue from the inside out. When this happens, dental work is necessary to arrest the progression of decay and restore the tooth to its former healthy and structurally sound state. Sometimes a simple filling with do the trick but if decay is more advanced a root canal may be necessary.

Seeing your dental hygienist and dentist at least twice a year for professional teeth cleaning and dental exams will help ensure your mouth is healthy and stays that way. In combination with these regular dental cleanings and exams, daily brushing and flossing your teeth is the best way to keep tooth decay at bay. We can’t all brush our teeth every time we eat or have a snack; what we can do is rinse with water to flush food debris and sticky drink residue from our mouths in between brushings. Chewing sugarless gum after a meal or snack can also help remove debris from your mouth in between brushings. We’ll remind you that chewing sugarless gum is not going to be as effective as brushing your teeth, but it can help freshen your mouth when you can’t brush right away.
Come see us at Clearwater Dental Clinic in Edmonton, we can help you get a head start on fighting dental bacteria and decay with a professional cleaning and dental exam. Together we can help your family fight dental decay!

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