Sugar Is Bad For Your Teeth – Really!


Sugar isn’t new nor is it going anywhere.  How we relate to it, though, should change.  In 2016 the United Kingdom announced its plans for a levy to be placed on drinks containing more than 5g of sugar starting in 2018.  The United States has dabbled in this battle as well, venturing to place taxes or all-out bans on soda.  The beverage industry fights back using the very communities they market to in their campaigns claiming it is a regressive grocery tax that hurts the poor.  Many hospitals and health organizations are pushing back, however, banning sugary drinks from their workplace.

What I want to emphasize is that there is no scientific difference in the chemical structure of natural sugar and ADDED sugar.  The body processes these identically.  What IS different, is when you eat whole foods and fruit with naturally occurring sugars there is fiber associated with it, which has other health benefits including slowing down and improving the absorption of sugar in the body.  Diet & nutrition, and oral health & disease is a synergistic 2-way street.  We have been seeing an increase in tooth decay amongst young children in North America. In fact, fruit juice is mostly to blame for the one out of eight three-year-olds that have rotting teeth.

The World Health Organization has proposed guidelines recommending the consumption of less than 5% of our total daily calories from added sugars.  This translates to an adult with a normal body mass index (BMI) of 5% consuming 25g of sugar (or less) or 6 teaspoons per day — the equivalent of approximately 10 Hershey’s Kisses.

Healthy alternatives and habits you can implement include: switching to unsweetened almond milk to enrich your coffee and/or cereal instead of adding sugar or choosing sugar-filled cereal, DIY flavored water with berries, cucumber, and/or melons instead of sugary drinks; and infusing your own green tea.  The American Dietetic Association asserts nutrition is an integral component of oral health.  One’s diet and relationship with food affects the integrity of the teeth.

Sugars that we intake are hydrolyzed by salivary amylase (enzymes) and provide a home for natural oral bacteria to run rampant and this in turn lowers the plaque and salivary pH.  Lo and behold the result is the onset of tooth demineralization due to the increase in acidity of the oral environment.  There are many factors, of course, that can and will determine the acceleration of the process — such as form of food or fluid, duration of exposure, nutrient composition, salivary flow, presence of buffers, and your overall oral hygiene.  Fluoride toothpastes and fluoridated water and mouthwashes help to combat tooth demineralization as well as sugarless chewing gum containing xylitol.

If you follow me on social media (Facebook @drgaryglassmantoronto; Twitter @DrGaryGlassman; LinkedIn Dr. Gary Glassman), you may have seen my post on May 23, 2017 regarding fruit juice and children.   For the first time since 2001, The American Academy of Pediatrics announced a new guideline REMOVING fruit juice from a child’s diet who is under the age of 1, as it offers no nutritional benefit.  Sugary drinks are considered one of the most common dietary causes of tooth decay.

 As an oral healthcare practitioner and oral fitness expert, I concur.   Juice packs more sugar than whole fruit and doesn’t encourage a healthy oral environment, especially in the beginning stages of a child’s development.  Taking it one step further — my advice is for children under 3 years old to stick to drinking water and milk, so that way they won’t ever get a taste for and/or crave the sweeter liquids that cause tooth decay.  Even if decay caused by fruit juice affects children’s baby teeth, which fall out naturally, it still is harming their gums. It is also increasing their chances of infection during adulthood. Decayed and abscessed baby teeth may also affect the permanent succedaneous teeth, teeth both in formation and alignment.

In conclusion — make good food choices that are low in acid and when in doubt — drink water rather than added sugar options to nourish the best smile you can!

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