Diet plays a big role in the maintenance of our teeth and gums. Many people are unaware of what foods are bad for our dental health. Did you know that carbohydrates are really just sugars in disguise? Luckily, our oral bacteria is unable to properly break down complex carbohydrates. However, simple sugars (monosaccharides) and links of simple sugars (disaccharides) can be broken down. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria break down these sugars producing acid as a byproduct. The acid sits on and between our teeth dissolving our teeth causing tooth decay.
Sugars That Cause Tooth Decay
-Sucrose. Also known as common table sugar (also sometimes called saccharose). Sucrose is found in most candy, is the sweetest of all the sugars, and is broken down by Streptococcus Mutans. S.Mutans is able to uniquely break down sucrose into dextran. Dextran acts as the glue for the bacteria to stick to teeth as well as act as a reserve food source for the bacteria. This glue makes dental plaque stickier and harder to remove. Sucrose is found in sugar cane, maple trees, and sugar beets.
-Fructose. This sugar is found in nature in many fruits (berries, melons) and root vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes). Fructose is not as sweet as Sucrose. Where Fructose becomes a problem for our teeth is when it is concentrated as high fructose corn syrup. At that point it becomes far sweeter than sucrose, sticky, and easily broken down by bacteria to cause decay. High fructose syrup is widely used due to its cheapness and its liquid form. Low cost makes it far easier to use in many commercial products.
-Glucose. This is the main energy source of our body. All of the other sugars ingested are broken down into glucose by the body. Glucose is broken down by bacteria as well and will cause our teeth to decay.
-Lactose. Also known as milk sugar. It is found in many dairy products (milk, yogurt, and cheeses). This is one of the rare sugars that is not sweet to the taste but it can still be broken down by our oral bacteria to produce acid in our mouths and lead to decay. In infants, milk left pooled in the mouth by sleeping with a bottle, can cause decay and thrush.
-Maltose. Commonly found in bread, rice, cereals, and beer. Beer is especially dangerous as it contains sugar and is acidic. A detrimental combination for our teeth. Maltose, like lactose, does not taste very sweet.
Avoiding sugar in today’s modern world is quite impossible for many. As you can see above, sugars come in many forms and in a variety of foods. The key as always should be to take in sugars in moderation, and use thorough oral hygiene techniques. It is important to note that sucrose, has little nutritional benefit. Sucrose (white table sugar) should be ingested in moderation. Lactose, natural fructose, and maltose are found in products important to a good healthy diet so they obviously will not be avoided if we wish to be healthy.
Tips to Minimize Dangers From Sugar
-Moderation. Ingest sugars in moderation.
-Maintain Good Oral Hygiene. If you are eating lots of sugar be sure to brush if you can immediately following to remove and dissolve the majority of the byproduct acids. If you cannot brush, rinse thoroughly with water following eating sugars, and chew sugar free gum.
-Drink Water. This will lessen effects of acidic attack on our teeth.
Let’s face it, most of us are not going to hold to a strict sugar free diet so it is important to maintain good oral hygiene. This is doubly important for children who tend to eat more candies than adults. As always remember to visit your dentist regularly for dental examinations and professional cleanings.