Understanding the relationship between sugar and plaque is the first step to understanding why sugar is often linked with tooth decay. Sugar is responsible for a number of dental health problems. From cavities to gum disease, a diet high in sugar can sabotage healthy smiles. You don’t have to forego sweet treats entirely to take excellent preventive care of your teeth. However, you do need to make wise decisions about what you eat and drink to care for the health of your teeth and gums.
Before you take another bite out of a tasty treat, take a minute to think about what you are putting in your body. Sugar has many health effects that are negative if you consume too much. Sugar can also damage your teeth. When you eat, sugars in foods and drinks mix with bacteria in your mouth to create plaque. This is a sticky, acidic substance that coats your teeth and eats away at your tooth enamel. If you don’t brush that plaque away, it will continue to eat at your teeth, slowly causing cavities. If you eat lots of sugar, then odds are that you have cavities more often than someone who doesn’t eat tons of sugar.
Plaque erodes your teeth because it’s acidic in nature. It also irritates your gums, causing them to recede from your teeth. This leads to gum disease over time if you don’t practice proper oral hygiene habits.
Sugar is all around us. It’s the sweet stuff millions of people crave on a daily basis and a filler to many foods. More and more we find that sugar has been added to foods that don’t need it (even healthy foods). Sugar actually has no nutritional value when it comes to your body. It’s a substance your body doesn’t actually need, yet it’s highly abundant in most foods and drinks. This means you have to watch your diet every single day so you don’t hurt your health or your teeth.
The American Heart Association recommends that men have no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugars a day. This is about 150 calories of added sugars (that don’t occur naturally in food), or 36 grams. The recommendation is 6 teaspoons for women, or 100 calories/25 grams. For children, it’s much less. Children 4-8 should have no more than 3 teaspoons and very little to none for children younger than that. However, studies show that infants 1-3 years old already consume about 12 teaspoons of sugar a day, and 8 year olds have about 21 teaspoons. The numbers only increase as age increases, leaving just about everyone at risk for tooth decay. This is why the National Institutes of Health report that tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease among adults and children.
Sugar is everywhere. It’s almost impossible to go throughout your day without ingesting at least a little bit of sugar in the foods you eat. Luckily, you can combat the effects of sugar every single day as well—at least when it comes to your teeth. Brushing and flossing your teeth is vital to keeping your teeth healthy and your oral health in top shape. We can’t stress these two habits enough. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush. However, you must brush your teeth properly to actually remove plaque. A good rule of thumb is to brush your teeth for 2 minutes 2 times a day. Use a toothbrush that fits your mouth (not too big or too small) and brush all the surfaces at a 45-degree angle. Change out your toothbrush about every 3-4 months or when bristles become frayed.
Your oral hygiene routine isn’t complete without flossing! Flossing your teeth every day will remove food particles that have become stuck in between the teeth. If you only brush without flossing, odds are that you will have tooth decay, as sugar and plaque easily gets between the teeth. You can even floss before and after your brush to ensure no plaque remains on your teeth. Some patients also find mouthwash to be beneficial to their oral health, as mouthwash kills bacteria in the mouth that can lead to plaque and cavities. If you clean your teeth thoroughly each day (which only takes a few minutes overall), then you may pass through many years without cavities.
Brushing your teeth is an essential habit for keeping them clean on a daily basis. Flossing will get to all those hard-to-reach places that toothbrush bristles can’t. Top off your oral hygiene habits with a visit to the dentist. Our recommendation is to come into our office at least twice a year for comprehensive examinations and dental cleanings. This is an opportunity for us to examine each individual tooth and clean and polish your teeth thoroughly. We can remove stuck-on plaque and tartar in places you can’t see. We can also take x-rays of your teeth to detect signs of tooth decay before that decay becomes large.
Receiving a dental cleaning will give your teeth a fresh start for the next few months of dealing with sugar and plaque. A comprehensive examination is the only way to detect cavities before they become large. This is because decay is not always apparent and generally lies below your tooth surface. Many patients only know that something is wrong when a cavity has grown large and causes pain and sensitivity. If you are prone to gum problems or cavities, we recommend that you see us every 3-4 months to keep your teeth health in check. If you are due for an exam or cleaning, or want to know more about sugar and your teeth, call Family & Cosmetic Dentistry of the Rockies today at 970-223-6101!