Unless you’ve been living under a rock your whole life, you know that sugar causes tooth decay. But how? And when we say “sugar”, what are we actually talking about?
Bacteria are naturally present in your mouth. On your teeth, under your gums, on your tongue, your cheeks…everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with that, human beings have evolved over thousands of years to live and prosper as the hosts of these microscopic organisms. We use them to our advantage, the most familiar example being the probiotics we take as supplements to assist our digestive health.
What we didn’t evolve with was copious amounts of readily available carbohydrates, such as sucrose (table sugar). Modern processed foods often contain sugars with confusing names such as corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids and malt syrup.
Any carbohydrate that bacteria come across in your mouth is digested by them and used for energy, but the simpler sugars mentioned above are more easily digested. The waste products the bacteria produce after “eating” this sugar is acidic, and it is this acid sitting on your teeth that damages them. The sticky white/ yellow substance on your teeth that we call plaque is a combination of food particles, bacteria and bacterial waste. So the sooner you remove this plaque by brushing your teeth and flossing, the less damage the acidity can do.
The important thing to remember, however, is that simple sugars are not the only form of energy for bacteria. There’s no going paleo for bacteria, they’re bulking up on a high carb diet. The easier the carbohydrate is to digest, the better they love it, but they’ll content themselves with carbs from bread, pasta, rice, sweet and savoury biscuits, muesli bars, dried and fresh fruit, chips, snack bars, cordial, fruit juice, energy drinks, sports drinks, smoothies, yoghurt, canned and jarred foods and the sugars naturally present in vegetables.
So limiting your intake of sweets, desserts, biscuits, cakes and sweet drinks is important. However to truly prevent damage to your teeth from bacteria you should follow these steps:
- Rinse with water after every meal then run your tongue over your teeth to check there are no chunks of food remaining in between your teeth or in the grooves of your teeth
- Run your tongue over your teeth after brushing and flossing to ensure they feel smooth and clean
- Brush your teeth in the morning and at night. It is especially important to brush at night so the acid isn’t sitting on your teeth all night eating away at them
- Floss your teeth once a day. This prevents decay from forming in between your teeth where your toothbrush can’t reach
- Have a check up and clean at the dentist every six months (unless advised otherwise by your dentist). The cleaning is more thorough than you are able to do at home with a toothbrush, plus the fluoride treatment protects against decay