You might think you don’t have a sweet tooth, and that you generally eat healthy, but do you really know what is in your food?
Sugar plays a harmful role in tooth decay as well as many health problems such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and heart problems. In this article we will discuss more of the oral health problems associated with sugar consumption.
The bacteria that form together to become plaque use sugar as a form of energy. They multiply faster and the plaque grows in size and thickness. Some of the bacteria turn the sugar into a kind of glue that they use to stick themselves to the tooth surface.
This makes it harder for the bacteria to get washed away with your saliva.
Every time you eat or drink anything sugary, your teeth are under acid attack for up to one hour. This is because the sugar will react with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on your teeth) and produce harmful acids. So it is important to have sugary foods or drinks just at mealtimes, limiting the amount of time your mouth is at risk.
Acidic foods and drinks can be just as harmful. The acid ‘erodes’ or dissolves the enamel, exposing the dentine underneath. This can make your teeth sensitive and unsightly.
A diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fresh fruit and vegetables can help to prevent gum disease. Gum disease can lead to tooth loss and cause bad breath. The diagram below is a good example of what you should eat as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
What foods can cause decay?
All sugars can cause decay. Sugar can come in many forms. Usually ingredients ending in ‘ose’ are sugars, for example: sucrose, fructose and glucose are just three types. These sugars can all damage your teeth.
Many processed foods have sugar in them, and the higher up it appears in the list of ingredients, the more sugar there is in the product. Always read the list of ingredients on the labels when you are food shopping.
When you are reading the labels remember that ‘no added sugar’ does not necessarily mean that the product is sugar free. It simply means that no extra sugar has been added. These products may contain sugars such as those listed above, or the sugars may be listed as ‘carbohydrates’. Ask your dental team if you are not sure.
Can I eat snacks?
It is better for your teeth and general health if you eat 3 meals a day instead of having 7 to 10 snacks. If you do need to snack between meals, choose foods that do not contain sugar. Fruit does contain acids, which can erode your teeth. However, this is only damaging to your teeth if you eat an unusually large amount. Try not to have a lot of dried fruit as it is high in sugar and can stick to your teeth.
If you do eat fruit as a snack, try to eat something alkaline such as cheese afterwards. Savoury snacks are better, such as:
Can I eat sweets?
The main point to remember is that it is not the amount of sugar you eat or drink, but how often you do it. Sweet foods are allowed, but it is important just to have them at mealtimes.
To help reduce tooth decay, cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks and try to have sugar-free varieties. Confectionery and chewing gum containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol may help to reduce tooth decay.
Sugary foods can also cause a range of health problems including heart disease and being overweight.
What should I drink?
Still water and milk are good choices. It is better for your teeth if you drink fruit juices just at meal times. If you are drinking them between meals, try diluting them with water.
Diluted sugar-free fruit drinks are the safest alternative to water and milk. If you make these, be sure that the drink is diluted 1 part fruit drink to 10 parts water. Some soft drinks contain sweeteners, which are not suitable for young children – ask your dental team if you are not sure.
Fizzy drinks can increase the risk of dental problems. The sugar can cause decay and the acid in both normal and diet drinks can dissolve the enamel on the teeth. The risk is higher when you have these drinks between meals.
Should I brush my teeth after every meal?
It is important that you brush last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a toothpaste containing fluoride.
Eating and drinking foods containing sugar and acids naturally weakens the enamel on your teeth. Brushing straight afterwards can cause tiny particles of enamel to be brushed away. It is best not to brush your teeth until at least one hour after eating.
It is especially important to brush before bed. This is because the flow of saliva, which is the mouth’s own cleaning system, slows down during the night and this leaves the mouth more at risk from decay.
Does chewing gum help?
Chewing gum makes your mouth produce more saliva, which helps to cancel out the acid in your mouth after eating or drinking. It has been proven that using sugar-free chewing gum after meals can prevent tooth decay. However, it is important to use only sugar-free gum, as ordinary chewing gum contains sugar and therefore may damage your teeth.
What’s my daily allowance?
There are two types of sugar – naturally occurring sugar like lactose in milk and added sugar, which includes table sugar (sucrose) as well as concentrated sources like fruit juice.
The new recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK’s official nutrition advisors are that only 5% of your daily calorie intake should consist of added or ‘free’ sugars. This equates to approximately five-six teaspoons (25g) for women and seven-eight teaspoons (35g) for men.
How does sugar benefit the body?
Sugar can have many positive effects on your life and metabolism. Here they are:
Calorie content – Sugar has a high calorie content that will give your body energy that you lack. However, all that energy is short lived and it can only give your short bust of increased productivity. Because sugar contains four calories per gram, but it lacks nutritious value (no dietary fibres) and because of that sugar is only an added ingredient in many meals.
Diabetes – Scientists have proven that diabetes is a genetic condition that is created from the moment we are born. Eating bad food and lots of sweets and fats can only decrease the efficiency of the pancreas, but in moderate use there are no health risks.
Skin health – Sugar’s glycolic acid can be very helpful in maintaining the health and look of your skin. Using it can help elimination blemishes and restoring the balance in the skin’s oils.
Less processed – Many people use high-fructose corn syrup as a means of sweetening their food, but that product is highly processed and can cause problems to their digestion. Sugars consist only from natural ingredients that can be processed easily by our metabolism.
Blood and insulin benefits – Many foods that have in them glucose are sweet, but our bodies (and especially liver) have larger problem disassembling glucose than fructose that can be found in sugar. Because of this, insulin levels will be greatly increased during the short periods of time, making you feel energetic and powerful. Sadly after that initial rush, drop of insulin will also make you hungry for more sweets. But that is not all. Because of the influence of sugar’s glucose has on the hormone leptin, you will indeed feel more full than after eating foods with fructose.
Minerals and nutrients – Sugars in their structure have ingredients that are passed to them from their natural sources, sugarcanes or beet. Elements such as phosphorus, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium will not be greatly present in the industrially refined sugar.
So sugar is one of many factors that plays a very important role in our diet. It is important to read food labels so that not too much is consumed and hidden sugars are seen.Think You Are Eating Healthy? was last modified: June 29th, 2018 by Dr Jas Sagoo