When we were kids, we were always told not to eat too much sugar, else we risked causing tooth cavities and damaging our teeth. If you’re a parent, you probably say the same to your children and limit their sugar intake.
But do sugar and sweet treats really have a significant effect on our oral health or is it just a myth that parents use to stop us from eating too much candy? In this article, we explain the sugar and cavity connection to help you better understand how eating sweets affects your teeth and what you can do to prevent cavities.
Cavities, also called tooth decay or caries, are tiny holes or openings in your teeth that signify permanent damage. This happens because the enamel, the protective layer of the tooth, breaks down and decays due to plaque. Plaque is a form of sticky bacteria that naturally forms in our mouths and can build up on the tooth without proper dental hygiene. As it continues to build up, it destroys the tooth enamel and causes tooth decay, which gives rise to cavities.
This oral condition is one of the world’s most common health problems and can affect anyone who has teeth, including infants, children, teenagers, and adult men or women. If you’ve been experiencing pain, pressure, or tooth sensitivity, then these are signs that you need to see your family dentist to spot the presence of cavities. Other symptoms include:
- Spontaneous tooth pain
- Tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, or drinking and eating sweets
- Visible holes on your teeth
- Pain when biting down
- Black, brown, or white stains on the tooth surface
It’s worth noting that not all cavities are apparent. Sometimes, you don’t even know when a cavity is forming because there are no symptoms. That’s why it’s important to go to your dentist regularly and spot any signs of cavity formation. Depending on the severity of the damage, cavities can either be treated with fluoride procedures, fillings, crowns, or in severe cases, root canals and tooth extractions.
So, Does Sugar Cause Cavities?
Because cavities are caused by plaque buildup on teeth, sugar per se does not cause cavities. But that doesn’t mean you can binge eat all the sweets you want now! While sugar does not directly have a connection to cavity formation, it does help create bacteria that can lead to not just cavities, but several oral health issues like gum disease and tooth loss.
Sugar mixes with saliva and bacteria in the mouth and sticks to the teeth. They thrive in the oral environment and build up if not properly managed. When left on teeth due to improper or lack of brushing, plaque damages the tooth enamel and can cause tooth decay and cavities.
Eating candy, sweets, or drinking sugary drinks is okay. But it’s important that it’s supplemented with proper oral hygiene, including drinking water immediately after consumption, brushing twice a day at least 2 minutes per session, flossing (very important for people with braces), and rinsing with mouthwash. These activities can help remineralize our teeth and get rid of cavity-causing plaque and bacteria.
How to Prevent Cavities
There’s a common misconception that sugar must be avoided at all costs to prevent cavities. However, that’s not necessarily true — and no fun for people with an intense sweet tooth! You don’t need to say goodbye to sugar forever to prevent cavities. But you need to observe proper oral hygiene at home — whether you’ve consumed sugar or not.
Your Oral Health Care Routine
The proper oral health care routine needs to include the following:
- Brushing at least twice a day and covering all areas of your mouth for at least 2 minutes
- Flossing daily
- Rinsing with mouthwash daily
- Visiting the dentist at least twice a year
You can also chew on sugar-free gum in between meals to step up your oral care routine. Sugar-free gum does not come with cavity-causing sweeteners and chewing on them helps increase your mouth’s saliva production. Saliva helps remineralize your teeth and reduce plaque acid, which ultimately assists in preventing tooth decay.
Your Dental Health is a Gateway to Your Overall Health
Your dental health can seem minor, but a lot of diseases and health concerns start with your mouth. Proper oral health has been proven to improve cardiovascular health, reduce the risk of diabetes, and prevent cancer, stroke, and other illnesses.
Some oral health issues can also be signs of more serious health conditions. So it’s important to take care of your teeth and visit your dentist at least twice a year to spot and prevent problems before they occur.