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Sugar and tooth decay: Top tips for strong healthy teeth

by Dermot Kavanagh Orthodontics : 21 January 2014

Sugar and tooth decay: Top tips for strong healthy teeth

by Michaela Simpson

Sugar and tooth decay

This month there has been much discussion about sugar in the news, including one with the powerful headline; "Sugar is the new tobacco". Too much sugar in the diet can lead to an increased risk of very serious health conditions including obesity and type 2 diabetes. And there is no doubt about the damage which sugar causes to our teeth.

Here we explain just how sugar causes such damage to your teeth and give realistic advice on how you can limit the risks.

How are cavities formed?

A dental cavity occurs when some of the tooth structure is destroyed and lost. This can cause sensitivity and pain (toothache), and can have more serious effects such as causing abscesses around the tooth or result in complete loss of your tooth.

The following four conditions lead to dental cavities;

1. Susceptible site where plaque can easily form.

For instance, in the bumpy, uneven surfaces of your teeth, the area where the gum and the tooth meet or in between the teeth. The variety of these sneaky site increase for patients with braces on the teeth.

2. Plaque.

Because of its white colour, plaque is difficult to see on the teeth. It is made up of millions of bacteria and is easily brushed away with regular and thorough tooth brushing and flossing.

3. Sugar.

The sugar in sweet foods and drinks interact with the plaque on the teeth. As the bacteria in the plaque feeds on the sugar, they produce an acid which dissolves the teeth causing cavities (holes in the teeth).

4. Time.

The longer the bacteria and sugar have to party around your teeth the more likely you are to see cavities form.

Causes of tooth decay

A note about braces:

As mentioned, having braces on your teeth increases the areas in the mouth where plaque can gather and hide. Orthodontic patients need to take extra care when brushing and flossing to make sure than they keep all areas around the brace plaque free. If plaque does build up around the brackets for instance, paired with sugar in the diet, this can lead to decalcification or decay around the brackets. Decalcification is what causes marks to be permanently left on the teeth after your braces are removed.

Be sure to watch our video on how to keep your teeth spotlessly clean while wearing braces.

The good news is that cavities are easily avoidable by following these rules.

Sugar in Coca-Cola

1. Avoid sugary foods and drinks.

We are realistic here, and we must admit we do enjoy a sweet treat ourselves! So our best advice for those who like a sweet treat is to keep it to meal times. Your teeth can withstand 3 acid attacks a day, i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Watch out for fizzy drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks; the amount of sugar they contain can be dynamite for teeth. Milk and water are the safest drinks.

2. Be wary of "hidden" sugars.                                                                             

It is difficult to judge sometimes which foods are low in sugar and which foods aren't. Marketing phrases such a "no added sugar" and "one of your five a day" often mislead well-meaning consumers trying to make the right choices for themselves and their families. For example, fruit yoghurts which are marketed as "healthy" foods can be chock full of sugar. Try natural yoghurt as a much healthier alternative.

3. Brush and floss!

It really cannot be said enough! Plaque is a soft substance and is easily brushed away. You just need to brush and floss twice a day, making sure that you reach all of the hard-to-reach areas mentioned before.

4. For patients with braces especially, rinse with a fluoride mouthwash.

A fluoride mouthwash will never do the same job as good brushing and flossing. Mechanical removal of plaque is the only way to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash however, is a great addition to your routine and when used last thing at night, will work as you sleep to strengthen your teeth.

5. Visit your dentist for check-ups.

Your dentist will give you the best advice on how often you should attend for check-ups.

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