If you’re like me, you love sweets. My friends and family always give me a hard time because I’m a dentist, but I have the biggest sweet tooth of anyone they know. With Halloween around the corner, I think it’s a good time to relay some facts about sweets and tooth decay. It’s okay to eat sweets, but you just have to understand how it affects your dental health. In this post I’m going to break down how your diet can affect your caries risk, or in other words, how prone you are to getting cavities.
There are a lot of factors that can contribute to your susceptibility to get cavities (or as we call it in the “industry”, caries). One of the most important factors, though, is your diet. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about quantity, but more about the frequency that you consume fermentable carbohydrates.
“What is a fermentable carbohydrate?” you may say.
A fermentable carbohydrate is any food that contains sugars that are easily broken down by our bodies’ digestive tracts. A few of these sugars that you might recognize are sucrose, glucose, and fructose. They are also more easily consumed by bacteria. These bacteria (mainly Streptococcus mutans) consume these sugars and produce a byproduct called lactic acid which breaks down the healthy tooth structure and causes tooth decay.
The concept of frequency refers to how often throughout the day you are consuming foods or drinks that contain these fermentable carbohydrates. The reason why frequency plays such a big role in the progression of tooth decay is because your mouth never gets the chance to fully neutralize the acids that are formed from the breakdown of these sugars by the bacteria.
Let me explain how this happens on the scientific level….
Your mouth is naturally neutral (pH of approximately 7). Whenever you consume these carbohydrates, the pH drops down to an acidic level. Over time, the saliva in your mouth neutralizes the acid and brings your mouth back to its normal state. If you’re constantly sipping on that sweet tea, or snacking on Halloween candy throughout the day, your mouth never gets a chance to fully recover back to the neutral state, staying at that acidic level. The bacteria love this environment and thrive in it, leading to increased risk of cavities.
There are several ways we can combat this phenomenon:
- Limit the frequency of consumption of these sugars. It’s okay to eat candy or sweets in moderation, but try to limit them to one sitting, rather than spreading it out in little bits throughout the day. (Trust me, I know it’s not easy.)
- Drink more water. Water is also a neutral liquid and can help to bring your mouth back to its neutral state and can help to wash away the sugars and bacteria.
- Chew sugar-free gum. When you chew gum, it causes your salivary glands to produce more saliva, which as we discussed previously, helps to neutralize the acids in your mouth. The chewing motion also helps to remove food particles and plaque from your teeth. As a bonus, look for gum with a sugar substitute called Xylitol, as it has more antibacterial properties than other artificial sweeteners.
- Basic oral hygiene. Brush, floss, and use a fluoride-containing mouthwash after consuming any sugary foods or drinks. Regular dental check-ups are important as well to make sure no cavities are forming.
So bottom line: diet is a very important (if not the most important) factor that contributes to tooth decay. With that said, Happy Halloween from the team at Hamilton Town Dentistry!