20 billion with a "b". Let that sink in for a second. Americans are buzzed with a sugar addiction. Research shows that we get on average about 13% of our daily calories from added processed sugars — the amount equal to a can of soda. This alarming fact excludes naturally occurring sugars that come from foods such as apples or milk.
With the holidays upon us, we’re all guilty of consuming large amounts of extra sugars. Most festive celebrations have just as many dessert options as they do actual main course items. Like many, you will graze and sample, wait a bit, and grab another treat to nibble. The more sugar you eat, the more you crave it. It becomes a vicious sugar ride that ends with a crash. But, you may not have been aware of what sugar can do to your teeth.
Simply put, excessive sugar consumption can lead to tooth decay and periodontal disease. Sugar makes contact with your mouth first before any other part of your body. Naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth feed on it. The bacteria then create acid as a by-product. These acids break down tooth enamel and can make the enamel weak. A weak tooth can make you more susceptible to tooth decay.
In this scenario, your mouth is the perfect environment for a bacterial party that will be a place for plaque to flourish. When sugar is the food source, other bacteria in your mouth will join in on the fun. This will lead to infected gums or worse.
Stop this domino effect with these 6 simple suggestions:
1. Brush and floss often
You should brush twice a day to help remove unnecessary plaque, bad bacteria, and food debris. Flossing is just as important. Most dental cavities are diagnosed between the teeth. If left untouched, the environment is more optimal for bacteria to grow and destroy your teeth.
2. Wait 30 minutes before
After consuming your food and sugary treats, wait 30 minutes before performing hygiene care. This allows the saliva to balance the pH levels. The enamel becomes softer from acid levels. Brushing too soon can potentially damage the enamel. If you are in a position where you cannot brush, rinse your mouth with water until you can get home.
3. Choose sweet treats that don’t stick around
Hard, sticky treats adhere to the tooth, lengthening the time of their damaging effects. Examples of these sugary treats are suckers, peanut brittle, candy canes, caramel, taffy, butterscotch, or gum drops. These treats could damage existing dental work like popping off a crown. Try swapping out old fashioned hard candies for a more dissolvable item like dark chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth.
4. Don’t constantly bathe your teeth in sugar
Avoid sipping on sugary drinks all day long. Constant sipping bathes the teeth in sugar. Even with a sugar substitute, be aware of the acid levels. It is ideal to have a beverage within a meal setting or shorter time frame. The mouth needs a proper amount of time to recover.
5. Bread and baked items contain sugars too
Digestion starts with the mouth. Once chewing cycles start, carbohydrates and starches break down into sugars. Bread, potato chips, crackers, and popcorn have gummy textures. They can smear and wedge between your teeth fostering bacterial growth. Also be very cautious of popcorn kernels. You may not realize it, but one bad bite into a kernel can cause a tooth fracture.
6. Enjoy your sweet treats responsibly!
We’re not saying that you should stop eating sweets and sugar altogether. It would be hard for us to do that too! We are advocating that you keep track of your sugar intake and think about the effect sugar has inside your mouth. Enjoy holiday celebrations with these tips in mind which can make for future happy and healthy dental checkups with your hygienist and doctor.
If you’re looking for a dental-friendly alternative, Xylitol is a sweet substitute. Your mouth doesn’t recognize the sugar compounds in Xylitol making it a good alternative to natural and synthetic sweeteners. Read more about it here.