Deterring Tooth Decay: The Facts Behind Cavities and Sugar
By Angela Canfield DDS
Tooth decay is actually one of the most common non-infectious diseases in the world. Many parents know at sugar intake is linked to cavities, but most don’t understand the science behind it.
Looking at public health records, researchers from University College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that, in America, tooth decay from sugar was far too high. About 60 to 90% of school-age children and 92% of adults in the U.S. have experienced tooth decay.
Now, as shocking as this may seem, sugar does not directly break down tooth enamel. Sugars found in candy and sweets are known as ‘simple sugars’, which are immediately consumed by the body. So how is it that sugar is the reputation for causing cavities?
Unfortunately, when you enjoy a sugary treat, there is a special kind of bacteria that responds, called streptococcus mutans. This bacteria actively breaks down the sugar, converting it to acid. The acid, in turn, can eat away the enamel on teeth.
Now more than ever, kids are faced with a bewildering array of food choices that include over-processed and sugar-laden convenience meals and snack foods, and many are consuming foods and drinks high in sugar and starches more often and in larger portions than ever before. For example, the average teenage boy in the U.S. consumes 81 gallons of soft drinks each year.
Snacking throughout the day can really speed up the tooth decaying process. When sugar is consumed over and over again in large, often hidden amounts, the harmful effect on teeth can be dramatic. It’s important to be very mindful with your snacking, and always check the nutritional value of the item.
When and what children eat may affect not only their general health but also their dental health.
So, how do you stop these acids? Well, the combined forces of brushing and flossing are still the best methods for removing harmful bacteria and acid over your teeth. It’s important to start educating your child as early as possible on how to prevent early childhood tooth decay and to discuss proper brushing and flossing techniques.
To access free online resources that can help with teaching children about good oral health, visit ADA.org.
Angela Canfield, DDS, is licensed by the Georgia Board of Dentistry and the National Board of Dentists. She owns and practices at two dental offices: Premier Dental Designs in Rincon, Ga., and Sandfly Family Dental in Savannah, Ga. Contact Dr. Canfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-826-4037.