Posts for: October, 2014
“Cut down on sweets, especially between meals” is perhaps one of the least popular words of advice we dentists regularly give. We’re not trying to be killjoys, but the facts are undeniable: both the amount and frequency of sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay. Our concern isn’t the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, grains or dairy products, but rather refined or “free” sugars added to foods to sweeten them.
The World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both advise consuming no more than 50 grams (about ten teaspoons) of sugar a day. Unfortunately, our nation’s average per person is much higher: we annually consume around 140 pounds per capita of refined sugars like table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, more than three times the recommended amount. Soft drinks are the single largest source of these in our diets — Americans drink an average of 52 gallons every year.
The connection between sugar and tooth decay begins with bacteria that ferments sugar present in the mouth after eating. This creates high levels of acid, which causes the mineral content of tooth enamel to soften and erode (a process called demineralization) and makes the teeth more susceptible to decay. Saliva naturally neutralizes acid, but it takes about thirty minutes to bring the mouth’s pH to a normal level. Saliva can’t keep up if sugars are continually present from constant snacking or sipping on soft drinks for long periods.
You can reduce the sugar-decay connection with a few dietary changes: limit your intake of sugar-added foods and beverages to no more than recommended levels; consume sweets and soft drinks only at meal times; replace sugar-added foods with fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that inhibit the fermentation process (like cheese or black and green teas); and consider using mint or chewing gum products sweetened with xylitol, a natural alcohol-based sugar that inhibits bacterial growth.
Last but not least, practice good oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing, along with regular office cleanings and checkups. These practices, along with limits on refined sugar in your diet, will go a long way toward keeping your teeth and mouth healthy and cavity-free.
If you would like more information on the relationship of sugar and dental disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Growing up with a dentist stepdad, Cheryl Burke of Dancing with the Stars heard a lot over the years about the importance of good oral hygiene — in particular, the benefits of using dental floss.
“My dad would say, ‘make sure you floss,’ but I never really listened to him. I was very, very stubborn,” Cheryl told Dear Doctor magazine recently in an exclusive interview. Cheryl admits this stubbornness took its toll, in the form of tooth decay. “I definitely had my share of cavities,” Cheryl recalled.
Cavities can form when food particles, particularly sugar and carbohydrates, are not effectively cleaned from the spaces between teeth. These particles are then broken down by bacteria naturally present in the mouth, resulting in the production of acids that attack the tooth enamel.
When she reached her twenties, Cheryl decided she really needed to step up her oral hygiene and cultivate an asset so important to a professional dancer: a beautiful smile. And once she did, cavities became a distant memory.
“I think when you do floss frequently, it helps to reduce the chances of getting cavities,” Cheryl said. “It took me a while to figure it out.” Now Cheryl flosses after every meal. “I carry floss with me wherever I go. I have no shame busting out my floss in the middle of a restaurant!” She declared.
Dental decay is actually a worldwide epidemic, especially among kids. Untreated, it can lead to pain, tooth loss, and, because it is an infectious disease, it may even have more serious systemic (whole body) health consequences. The good thing is that it is entirely preventable through good oral hygiene at home and regular professional cleanings here at the office.
If it has been a while since you or your children have seen us for a cleaning and check-up, or you just want to learn more about preventing tooth decay, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. If you would like to read Dear Doctor's entire interview with Cheryl Burke, please see “Cheryl Burke.” Dear Doctor also has more on “Tooth Decay: The World's Oldest & Most Widespread Disease.”