You’ve probably heard sugar damages your teeth since you were a young child. But do you know why? Learn more and see how easy it can be to cut down on your sugar consumption and limit its effects on your teeth.
What sugar does to your teeth
As much as you might like sugar, the bacteria in your mouth are even more fond of it. Bacteria feed on sugar, forming dental plaque that becomes acidic and makes holes in your teeth. In other words, it causes cavities. That plaque can also lead to gum disease and bad breath.
Foods that are full of sugar – including surprising ones
It’s well known that many tempting foods are full of sugar, including cookies, pies, cakes, candy, ice cream, frosting and non-diet soda. Sticky sweets that linger on your teeth, like caramels and dried fruit are especially damaging.
However, you may be shocked to find many other items, including some considered to be healthy and others that don’t even taste sweet also contain large amounts of added sugar, including:
- Flavored yogurt
- Barbecue sauce
- Spaghetti sauce
- Baked beans
- Breakfast cereals, granola and granola bars
- Dried fruit
- Trail mix
- Packaged muffins
- Salad dressing
- Fruit juice
- Chocolate milk
- Sports drinks
- Flavored coffees
- Sweetened iced tea
- Coffee creamers
Foods that are high in carbs, like chips, pretzels and crackers can also damage teeth. That’s because those foods can stick in your teeth and break down into cavity-causing sugar. For example, children who regularly snack on starchy potato chips and sugar cookies are four times more likely to get cavities than kids who don’t.
How to limit sugar damage to your teeth
Whenever possible avoid foods and drinks that are high in sugar. If you do indulge, do so in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day for most women and nine teaspoons for most men.
When you eat or drink something sugary, it’s better to do so at mealtime rather than as a snack. Your mouth produces more saliva at a meal, helping wash away sugar. If you snack or sip on high-sugar foods or drinks more often, you’re exposing your teeth to sugar more often, increasing your risk of cavities.
After eating something sugary, make sure to drink water to help remove some of the sugar from your teeth. Chewing sugar-free gum can also stimulate your saliva flow to help clean your teeth.
As a part of a healthy, well-balanced diet eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, low-sugar dairy foods and water. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and chia seed pudding. You may also want to try low-sugar versions of some popular sweet foods and drinks, as long as they aren’t acidic.
A good rule of thumb to follow is to limit your sugar to no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake. This has been shown to decrease your risk of tooth decay. To give you an example, the average person consumes about 350 calories in added sugar daily.
In addition to eating less sugar, you can greatly reduce your risk of cavities by brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes each time, flossing daily and visiting your dentist regularly.