We all like a sugary drink or treat every now and then. Have you ever stopped to think how this affects your general and oral health?
Firstly what are sugars? Sugars are a sweet like crystal substance (mainly sucrose) that is white (when pure) or brown when less refined. Sugar is commercially obtained from sugar cane or sugar beet. Sugar is a common source of dietary carbohydrate that many of us consume on a daily basis.
Where do sugars in our daily diet come from?
Natural sugars: Natural sugars are present in fruit (as fructose) and in dairy products (as lactose). For example these sugars are present in fruit, milk & cheese, however, these sugars help provide essential nutrients to the body and keep you healthy.
Added sugars: These are usually sugars and syrups that are added to food or drinks by the manufacturer or chef during cooking, preparation, and manufacturing of food. For example, these sugars are present in soft drinks, energy drinks, cereals, bread, pastries, lollies, chocolate, ice cream, alcohol etc. Added sugars provide no essential nutrients to the body and in fact, add extra harmful calories.
Free sugars: Added sugars are sugars present in honey, syrups and fruit juices. For example, these sugars can be found in fruit juice, sugar syrups, and honey or added to coffee and tea. Again free sugars provide no essential nutrients to the body and add extra calories which harm the body.
So how to sugars affect your general health?
Consumption of excess sugars is harmful to both general and oral health. Sugars can affect different parts of the body and can cause health problems. For Example:
- Brain: Sugar can cause addiction, impaired learning, and memory loss.
- Stress: Can cause anxiety and irritability.
- Face: Can cause wrinkles, saggy skin & early aging.
- Heart: Can cause heart disease (including strokes and heart attaches) and may increase cholesterol levels.
- Liver: Can cause fatty liver.
- Pancreas: Can cause type-2 diabetes, gout & cancers.
- Ageing: Can cause loss of elasticity, aging of body tissue from skin to organs to arteries.
- Weight gain: Can cause weight gain and obesity.
- Blood vessels: Can cause high blood pressure.
- Immune system: Weakens the body's normal defense system to fight against infection.
How do sugars affect your oral health?
Sugars are the main cause of tooth decay. Tooth decay occurs when the hard outer enamel layer of the tooth is damaged. A sticky film of bacteria (plaque) forms a layer on the teeth. Most damage to tooth enamel is caused by acids produced by bacteria in the plaque using sugars as the main source of energy. The acid in the bacteria then penetrates the tooth surface and dissolves some tooth minerals, for example, calcium, phosphate and fluoride. When this occurs over several months the enamel starts to break down and cavities become present.
How can I reduce my sugar intake?
- Choose healthy alternatives.
- Know your daily limit of sugar intake.
- Prepare and cook your own meals.
- Remove sugars from sight.
- Avoid take away and junk food.
- Reduce carbohydrate intake such as white bread, white rice, pasta, cereals, white sugar and soft drink.
How can I prevent tooth decay and stay healthy?
- Introduce a low sugar diet for your family early in life.
- Engage in healthy eating around children to form healthy eating habits.
- Become aware of the amount and frequency you are consuming sugary foods and drinks.
- Avoid eating long-lasting sources of sugars for example: dried fruits, fruit leathers or hard/ chewy sweets. These can stick to teeth and cause tooth decay.
- Remember to rinse your mouth out with water after consuming sugary foods and drinks.
- Replace sugar containing food and drinks with healthy food options.
- Do not let children sleep with a feeding bottle or suck on a feeding cup for long periods of time.
- Saliva plays a very important role in your dental health. It is responsible for cleaning food away from teeth, neutralising acids, remineralising teeth and repairing tooth damage. Chewing sugar-free gum after eating is also beneficial in stimulating saliva production.
- Make sure to brush your teeth twice daily (breakfast and bedtime) with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Drinking tap water helps to prevent tooth decay and strengthen tooth enamel.
- Engage in physical activity for 30min per day.
- Visit your dentist every 6 months.
- See your dental practitioner or GP for more advice.