Sugar is found in many foods and beverages – many more than most people even know. When we eat dessert or a sweet treat, we know it contains sugar. But what about our dinners? What about pasta sauce, barbecue sauce, sports drinks, or even low-fat yogurt? Sugar is sneaky and it is important to be aware of the ways that it can damage your teeth and gums so that you can take steps to reduce your intake and protect your oral health.
Sugar contributes directly to tooth decay by creating plaque on the teeth, which can dissolve enamel. It also causes gum disease, which can lead to periodontitis or even coronary artery disease. There are many ways to reduce your sugar intake and protect yourself from the harmful oral and overall health effects of sugar.
Plaque is a sticky film that forms on the teeth when bacteria mixes with saliva. The bacteria in plaque uses sugar as food, and when these bacteria eat, they produce acids. These acids attack the enamel on your teeth, leading to tooth decay.
Sugar can also cause gum disease, which is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Gum disease occurs when the gums become inflamed and pull away from the teeth. Plaque can build up in these spaces and eventually lead to infection. The gums can become so damaged that they begin to break down, and the teeth can eventually fall out.
Gum disease is usually caused by poor oral hygiene, but it can also be caused by certain medical conditions such as diabetes. Smoking is also a major risk factor for gum disease. You can reduce your risk of gum disease by brushing and flossing your teeth regularly, and by visiting your dentist for regular checkups. If you have diabetes, it is especially important to control your blood sugar levels and to see your dentist regularly.
You should also try to limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks you consume. When you do eat or drink something sugary, brush your teeth soon afterwards, if possible. This will help remove the plaque from your teeth before it has a chance to do any damage.
Cutting back on your sugar intake is one of the best things you can do for your teeth and gums. Here are some quick tips for reducing your sugar intake:
-Read nutrition labels carefully. Many “healthy” or “low fat” foods are actually high in sugar. Get to know the different terms for sugar on nutrition labels (eg. fructose AND dextrose AND glucose) so you can calculate total sugar content for each food item.
-Don’t drink your fruits, eat them. Choose whole fruits instead of fruit juices or other sugary drinks. Whole fruits contain fiber which will slow the absorption of sugar into the body. Fruit drinks have had this fiber, and vital metabolic step, removed.
-Eat more unsweetened yogurt, cheese, and nuts. It is important to make the distinction between unsweetened and low-fat. Products labeled as low-fat may still contain sugar and high amounts of synthetic sweeteners so it is recommended that you search for dairy and other products that are simply unsweetened to begin with.
-Limit sugary snacks like cookies, cake, and candy. Period.
-Replace sugary drinks with water and, occasionally, an unsweetened tea or coffee.
Following some or all of these tips can help you reduce your sugar intake and protect your teeth and gums from long-term damage. So, next time you reach for a sugary snack, think twice and choose something that will be better for your oral health.