“Eat less sugar, you’re sweet enough already!” -Unknown
Do you have a sweet tooth?
Sugar is a carbohydrate, found naturally in most plants. When you consume sugar, it becomes ‘food’ for the bacteria in the plaque in your mouth, which produces acid as a waste product. Tooth decay, or dental caries, occurs when this acid wears away the surface of the tooth and causes holes to form. These holes become cavities which can be painful and may lead to an abscess! Sugar is a major contributor to the formation of cavities. You may think that because you don’t snack on cakes and candies that you have a low sugar intake, but it can be hidden in many everyday foods.
Not all sugar is created equal. You may have heard the term “good” sugar vs. “bad” sugar. “Good” sugar is naturally occurring, like in fruits and vegetables. “Bad” sugar is artificial and man-made. The best way to become more aware of your overall intake is to read labels. If you buy an item with a high sugar value you may think it is not a wise choice, but if you examine the label more closely you may see that no sugar has been added. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake no more than 100 calories per day for women (approx 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (approx 9 teaspoons). Remember to also check how many servings are listed on the nutritional information. It may look like it is low in sugar but the serving size is small, or less than the full package.
To reduce your sugar intake, the easiest and best way is to eat less processed foods. Eating natural, whole foods ensures you know what ingredients are being consumed, and that the sugar is naturally sourced. When choosing other items, be aware of not only the grams of sugar, but the ingredients. A low-sugar snack made of artificial ingredients may not be your best overall choice. Be aware of what to look for, as sugar is often hidden on labels with many different aliases. Some examples include evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup(HFCS), and rice syrup. Many sugar varieties end in –ose, like sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, galactose, dextrose, and lactose. They’re all sugars! In fact, there are 61 different names for sugar.
It is not realistic to think we can consume a diet that is sugar-free, so some other things you can do to help protect your teeth include:
- Brushing your teeth in the morning and evening as well as flossing daily, ideally with a fluoride-containing toothpaste
- Eating sugary foods with your meals, while the acid levels in your mouth are already higher
- Being aware of sugars consumed- how much and what type
- Snacking less, as acid is produced each time you eat
- Rinsing your mouth with water after eating sugary foods
- Drinking water instead of sweetened drinks
By educating yourself on the food you are eating you can greatly reduce the incidence of sugar-related dental caries. Good luck!