Even if you don’t eat a lot of sweets, it’s hard to avoid eating sugar altogether. Refined sugar is found in a wide variety of foods, especially snack foods, sauces, and even ‘health foods’.
Cutting down on sugar is important as too much sugar can affect your teeth by causing cavities. Here’s everything you need to know about how sugar affects your teeth.
Why is sugar bad for our teeth?
Sugar is bad for our teeth because when combined with the bacteria in plaque it produces acid. This acid slowly dissolves tooth enamel and can cause holes or cavities in teeth. Thousands of New Zealand kids go into hospital for dental treatment every year with diet found to be a leading factor of dental problems.
Most dentists and oral surgeons typically recommend cutting back on all sugars—from sugary drinks to lollies and even muesli bars—in order to protect your teeth from decay and erosion.
Natural sugars come from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy products and grains. Refined sugars are added to food during processing or preparation. The more sugary foods you eat, the greater your risk of developing cavities. The bottom line is that if you want healthy teeth and gums for life, you must limit the amount of sugary food and drink you consume each day.
What are the effects of eating too much sugar?
In addition to the health risks that can come from eating too much sugar—including obesity, elevated blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes—there are also serious oral health consequences.
This can lead to cavities as well as tooth erosion—which is irreversible if left untreated.
Sugar’s damaging effects don’t stop there. Excessive amounts of sugar can also contribute to dry mouth, a condition that leaves you feeling parched and irritated. In addition, when plaque isn’t removed by brushing and flossing between teeth regularly (as should be done twice daily), it hardens into tartar.
Eating too much sugar has a wide range of negative effects on dental health. However, you don’t have to be eating excessive amounts of sugars or ‘bad’ foods to harm your teeth.
What are the worst sugary foods for your teeth?
The foods that contribute the most to tooth decay in children are:
- White bread – white bread is low in fibre and can turn into a sticky paste which coats the teeth. Switch to wholegrain or brown bread. This will also keep you full for longer.
- Fruit juice – juice is highly acidic as well as being high in sugar. Swap fruit juice for water or drink a glass of water after your morning orange juice.
- Refined breakfast cereals – many breakfast cereals appear to be ‘healthy’ but actually contain a high amount of sugar. Weet-Bix or rolled oats are low sugar breakfast options that are better for your teeth.
- Confectionary and cakes – baked goods are often high in sugar, and your body doesn’t get a lot of energy or nutrients from these foods. .
- Soft drinks – sugary sodas are one of the worst offenders for causing tooth decay. Children should not consume soft drinks regularly as they are very high in caffeine and sugar and low in nutrients. Don’t keep soft drinks in your house as an everyday drink.
- Ice cream – dessert foods like ice cream are high in sugar and should be treated as a sometimes food rather than an everyday snack.
- Noodles – noodles are low in nutrients when consumed on their own. Pair your noodles with vegetables and meats or tofu for a more nutritious snack. Noodles don’t contain a lot of sugar, but they are high in refined carbohydrates. The study showed that children consuming more refined carbs tended to have more cavities.
Can you have too little sugar in your diet?
Yes, you can have too little sugar in your diet. Eating too little sugar can result in low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. However, most people are getting more than enough sugar in their diet. In fact, according to some data, New Zealand has one of the highest rates of sugar consumption in the world. Other reports suggest kiwis consume around 37 teaspoons of sugar a day—six times as much as they should.
Even if you avoid biscuits, lollies, soda, baking and adding sugar to your tea or coffee, you can still get enough sugar through eating:
- Tomato sauce and paste
- Pasta and cooking sauces
- Protein cookies and bars
- Dried fruits
- Flavoured yoghurts
- Low fat products
- Single serve oatmeal with dried fruits
- Iced teas
- Tinned fruit
How to protect your teeth from sugar
There are multiple ways to prevent sugar from destroying your teeth.
Limit your intake of sugar as much as possible
This not only helps keep your dental health in check but will help regulate your blood pressure and avoid sugar crashes throughout the day.
Eating more calcium-rich foods
Yoghurt and cheese are high in calcium which are good for tooth strength. Just avoid yoghurts with added sugar or flavours. Hard foods are also great for tooth strength. Apples, broccoli, carrots and pears are crunchy, fibrous and produce saliva which washes out your mouth.
Drink more water
Saliva is great for washing away particles in your mouth that would otherwise cling to your teeth. Drink water after every meal and make sure you’re drinking at least 2L a day. If you don’t like drinking water, try drinking natural sparkling water or adding ice cubes or a slice of lemon, kiwi, or lime to your glass.
Floss and brush every day
Drinking water will help flush out the food particles in your mouth, but it won’t help dislodge more stubborn bits of food. Brush for two minutes morning and night and floss every day.
Use a fluoride toothpaste
Fluoride acts as a protective shield around your teeth. Make sure you are brushing with a fluoride toothpaste so that your teeth and gums get the benefits of strong tooth enamel.
See your dentist regularly
If it’s been more than six months since your last checkup, you need to book an appointment with your dentist. Book your appointment for a dental consultation or checkup now.