Sugar is bad for your teeth, we can all agree on that, but there are other assumptions about sweets that may not be reliable.
Let’s look at some common myths about dietary sugar and teeth. The problem with listing foods to avoid is that there are so many. It is natural then to start wondering what to eat and drink.
1. Teeth like “diet” and sugar-free drinks?
The logic is seemingly obvious: if the sugar in the drinks is harmful, the sugar-free version must be the right choice. Surely you can drink all the sugar-free lemonade or Coke you want without any negative effect on your teeth?
This is a myth.
Research conducted at the University of Michigan analyzed the damage caused to teeth by Coca-Cola and Diet Coke. The results showed that, after 14 days of exposure to the teeth, the diet version had slightly more damage to tooth enamel than the standard version.
Whatever advantages these diet drinks may or may not have on other aspects of the body, saving enamel is not one of them.
Many sugar-free drinks are high in phosphoric acid, citric acid and/or tartaric acid, and it is these acids that can damage tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay and possible gum problems.
This applies even to fruit juices, which can be naturally high in citric acid; while switching from lemonade to orange juice can have many overall health benefits, it is not a change that eliminates all potential damage to teeth. (Tip: Drink your orange juice through a straw, aluminum or bamboo, not plastic, to avoid contact with your teeth).
Of course, there are beverages that do little or no damage to teeth, and it will surprise no one that water tops the list. However, we know that many people do not want to limit themselves to drinking only water.
Tea and coffee are relatively tooth-friendly (although they do stain teeth), and milk is also considered a safe drink for teeth.
2. Little and often is better than a big dose?
Which do you think is worse – a huge pudding full of sugar that you eat in one sitting or a packet of jelly beans that you eat throughout the afternoon?
The former may be worse for your waistline, but the latter, continually snacking on sugary treats, has much more potential to damage your teeth.
Every time you eat sugar and starchy foods, the bacterial plaque in your mouth creates an acid that wears down your tooth enamel.
Normally, after about an hour, the damage subsides and the “attack” is over. Snacking on sweets or slowly sipping a sugary drink throughout the day creates many more opportunities for these attacks on teeth. Our dentists have a saying: if you drink or snack all day, you risk cavities.
3. Eliminating all sugar is beneficial
If sugar is bad for dental health, a simple equation could be followed: reduce sugar, improve dental health, eliminate sugar, enjoy optimal dental health.
The problem with this logic is that dental health is not the only aspect of health to consider (although it is what we tend to focus on in these pages). One must take a holistic approach to diet and health.
Yes, it is recommended to eliminate refined sugars such as those in sweets, but not the “natural” sugars, fructose and lactose, found in fruits and dairy.
Foods with naturally occurring sugars contain other important nutrients that help stabilize blood sugar levels and benefit overall health.
The glucose in refined sugars is broken down in the mouth, giving rise to the nasty acids we mentioned above, while fructose and lactose are broken down in the stomach (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t brush after eating natural sugars, as leaving those deposits on your teeth can still do damage).
To minimize the impact of sugars and acids from foods containing natural sugars, maintain a good oral health routine at home and visit your dentist and hygienist as often as they recommend.
4. You should brush your teeth immediately after consuming sugar.
Yes, you should… BUT… this depends on the type of sugar and what it is combined with.
Brushing your teeth after consuming refined sugar, such as after eating a cookie, is good.
Brushing after orange juice – which combines sugar and acid – is not so good.
When eating or drinking something acidic, the pH level of the mouth changes and brushing immediately after a drink or meal increases the risk of damaging the enamel. In these situations it is better to wait an hour before brushing your teeth.
5. Sugar is the worst thing for teeth
It is undeniable that sugar is harmful to teeth in the long term, as its frequent and excessive consumption causes cavities.
As already mentioned, the acid in foods and beverages can be just as harmful, if not more so.
Alcohol also contains sugar and goes even further on the damage scale, as it can dry out the mouth, which can lead to a buildup of plaque and bacteria that increases the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.