You are what you eat. And whilst sugar gives you lots of energy, it’s very easy to have too much of it and risk dental decay. Sugar may have a bad reputation, but to fully understand its impact on your teeth, you need to be able to see the effects of sugar consumption and know what you can do to protect your dental health.
Sugar, at its core, is a class of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are made from simple sugars. These simple sugars are small building blocks that can build a whole range of different types of carbohydrates. Sugar is quick and easy fuel for your body and brain. But as the saying goes: too much of a good thing can be harmful. It’s scientifically proven that a diet high in sugar can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay.
Know What to Look Out For
Sugar comes in many different shapes and forms. The negative effects it may have on your body, however, are the same. Most ingredient lists hide the true amount of sugar contained in a snack or drink, by using synonyms like maltodextrin and dextrose. The only way for you to not get tricked is knowing what to look out for when scanning product labels.
The many names of sugar can be misleading. The following list of common terms will help you identify sugar that’s hiding in plain sight and shop smarter in the future:
|Basic Simple Sugars||Solid Sugars||Liquid or Syrup Sugars|
Cane juice crystals
Corn syrup solids
Brown rice syrup
How Does Sugar Affect Your Teeth?
You may wonder why dental health professionals are so worried about your sugar consumption. But we witness the effects of excessive sugar intake in combination with inadequate oral health first hand – every single day. According to data provided by the Australian Dental Association (ADA), tooth decay is one of Australia’s most prevalent health problems:
- 50 per cent of all Australian children and 90 per cent of adults suffer from tooth decay
- 47.8 per cent of Australians adults and 70.3 per cent of children are consuming too much sugar
- Tooth decay is the second-most costly disease linked to diet
- 90 per cent of dental health problems can be prevented
Linking sugar consumption and tooth decay
Your mouth is full of naturally occurring bacteria which help to keep you healthy. However, there are some bacteria in your mouth that feed on the sugars you consume. These bacteria produce an acid that irritates your gums and weakens your tooth enamel – the white and shiny, outer layer of your teeth.
Your saliva is a natural defence mechanism that protects your teeth from acid attacks. Your saliva contains minerals that neutralise acid created by the bacteria. And then there is fluoride, a mineral that fortifies weakened enamel and occurs in all natural bodies of water. Fluoridated toothpaste gets the fluoride into all the small nooks and crannies and is available in most supermarkets.
However, there is only so much that these minerals can do. If you weren’t smart about your dietary choices and diligent with your oral care, you’d soon be dealing with issues like cavities, tooth decay, root canals or gum disease.
These Bad Habits Can Ruin Your Teeth
It’s time to address the elephant in the room: From time to time, you’ll do things all the while knowing that they’re not good for you. When it comes to your dental health, some habits are worse than others. Your sugar consumption is as you now know, one of the main culprits.
Here are a few bad behaviours that can ruin your teeth:
- Consuming high sugar snacks. Studies indicate that it increases your risk of oral cavities and tooth decay.
- Frequent snacking between meals. It increases the time in which your teeth are exposed to the acid-producing bacteria.
- Drinking sugary sodas, smoothies and fruit juices. They contain a lot of sugar and high levels of acids that may erode the protective layer of your teeth.
- Slowly sipping your drinks. The longer your teeth are exposed to sugary and acidic beverages, the worse are their effects on your oral health.
- Eating sticky foods, such as hard candies or lollipops. As you keep them in your mouth for a prolonged time period, they gradually release sugar.
- Not brushing your teeth or flossing enough and giving sugar and acid a very long time to do their job.
How Much Sugar is Too Much?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians consume on average 60 grams of sugar per day – that’s 14 teaspoons of sugar. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Male teenagers, on average, consume 92 grams or 21 teaspoons of sugar, each day.
To give you an idea of what healthy levels of sugar consumption look like: The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommends a maximum of six teaspoons of sugar for women and nine teaspoons for men, per day.
With natural and added sugars hiding in so many of the things you drink and eat every day, cutting down on your sugar intake can be tricky, but it’s definitely worth it both for your oral and overall health.
Are natural sugars better than refined sugars?
Natural and refined sugars are two sides of the same coin. We consume natural sugars in the form of fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Refined sugars have been extracted from their natural sources, often sugar cane or sugar beets, and are then used in cakes, tomato sauce and other types of processed foods and drinks.
The big difference between natural and refined sugars is in how your body metabolises them. Your body digests refined sugar rapidly, causing your blood sugar levels to rise and fall quickly. The fibre contained in fruit, on the other hand, slows down your metabolism, giving your body a little more work before it can turn carbohydrates into energy.
Although they’re metabolised differently, at the end of the day, both natural and refined sugars have similar metabolic effects. But, the consumption of refined sugars has been linked with increased risks of cancer and since they’re digested quickly, you’ll never really feel full and satisfied.
There are some easy swaps you can make to reduce your sugar consumption:
- Choose low acidity and low sugar fruits, like berries, peaches, and apples.
- Be careful with sweet and sour fruits, such as pineapple and mango, they contain large amounts of sugar and acid and should be eaten in moderation.
- Drink more water. Not only to rinse your mouth after munching on fruit but to replace sodas, fruits juices and sports drinks.
- Ditch store-bought sauces and dressings. Sauces like Ketchup contain large amounts of sugar. Instead, flavour meals with fresh herbs, lemon juice, pesto or homemade dressings and sauces.
- Choose full-fat versions over fat-free products. They contain a lot less added sugar.
- Pick healthy snacks. Processed snacks are usually high in sugar, even if they’re labelled as “all-natural” or “organic”. Have a handful of mixed nuts or freshly cut up veggies instead.
Smart Dietary Choices for a Healthy Smile
Watching what you eat and drink combined with good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist’s office, are the main measures you can take to prevent cavities and tooth decay.
A balanced diet of whole foods is a great starting point. If you do feel like having the occasional treat, be smart and compare products. The ADA graphic below will help you read and understand the nutrition information you find on food labels:
When you’re comparing the sugar content of two products, use the ‘per 100 g’ column. Ideally, you should aim for less than 10 grams of sugar per 100 grams. If it’s a fruit, or food that contains fruit, allow for up to 20 grams per 100 grams.
Diet tips that keep tooth decay at bay
- Be aware: Foods claiming ‘no added sugar,’ often contain a higher level of natural sugar.
- Sugar is listed under the first three ingredients on a food label? Ditch it!
- Avoid snacking and drinking sugary drinks between meals.
- Avoid sipping drinks for long periods of time – it increases your teeth’s exposure!
- Have water with every meal to help wash away lingering food.
- You’re after a snack? Nuts, unsweetened dairy products, lean meats and vegetables are good options and help to keep your teeth healthy and cavity-free.
What else can you do to protect your oral health?
- Brush your teeth twice a day or after every meal, using fluoride toothpaste.
- Use dental floss once a day to clean the nooks and crannies between your teeth.
- Visit your dentist every 6 months for a check-up and professional clean.
- Quit smoking, it damages your tooth enamel and gums.
The Bottom Line
There are many things you can do to protect your smile. A combination of eating healthily, practising good oral hygiene, using fluoridated toothpaste and having regular dentist visits, will protect your teeth from the negative effects of sugar consumption.
Do you have questions about your oral health or hygiene? Has it been a while since your last check-up? Come and speak to Dr Alex Davies at Admire Dentistry. Simply give us a call or alternatively, schedule an appointment through our online booking system.