How to reduce tooth decay caused by sugar
Most of what I treat on a day to day basis as a dentist are conditions related to lifestyle.
I mainly treat the effects of decay (dental caries), gum disease, and bite problems. Here we will be talking about what causes tooth decay and what you can do to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
What is dental decay?
Dental caries is the process of certain bacteria consuming the sugar that we eat, then they turn it into acid. When this acid attacks our teeth, this is decay.
Why do teeth decay?
Decay did not become a massive problem until around the 1600’s when the first commercial sugar plantation opened in Central America. Once refined sugar became a common commodity, dental decay became rampant, and the dental profession started. It is interesting to note that during war times when rationing occurs, the incidence of dental decay reduces, then increases again when normal supply resumes.
So dental decay is directly influenced by the consumption of sugar. Brushing, flossing and fluoride exposure are modifying factors that help reduce this incidence.
How many times are your teeth exposed to sugar?
Now only eating carrots and celery would be a pretty boring existence!! Sugar is part of our way of life, and we can still enjoy sweet things without being at risk of decay, as long as we consume the sugar in moderation.
It is all about the number of sugar ‘hits’ per day, and the duration of the sugar hit.
There was an awful study done a long time ago in an psychiatric hospital (a long time before ethics committees!) where a group of patients were given the same amount of sugar each day. One group had it all at once, the other had the sugar divided into 10 doses throughout the day. After a period of time, both groups were examined.
The group that had the sugar all at once had no increase in decay, the other group developed rampant decay!
Ideally, if we can keep the sugar hits to 3-4 times per day (ideally keep it to meal times) we shouldn’t get decay (things like a dry mouth, fluoride exposure, brushing and flossing habits also have an impact.)
What counts as a sugar hit?
Basically anything sweet is considered a sugar hit. Coffee/tea with sugar, mints for fresh breath (unless sugar free), soft drinks, dried fruit, lollies, cakes etc, fruit juices, even natural fruits count!
What causes the worst decay?
The worst decay is caused by anything sweet that sits on the teeth for a period of time as it makes it a longer ‘hit’. Sticky sweets, dried fruits are the obvious ones. We find the worst culprits are lolly pops, fruit juice in sipper bottles, people who sip on sugary drinks, these are the things that cause the worst decay.
It is all about habits!
Decay is modified by effective oral hygiene (brushing and flossing), fluoride exposure (in scheme water, toothpastes etc.) and the amount of salivary flow.
There is no such thing as genetically weak teeth, some teeth develop weaker (enamel hypoplasia) but this is very rare, what is inherited is eating habits.
More and more sugars are entering our diets as our eating habits change, more of them are ‘hidden’ sugars. Decay is very definitely on the rise despite fluoridation. It is still possible to prevent decay with sensible diet and lifestyle planning.