We’re all learning more and more about how consuming large amounts of sugar can wreak havoc on your overall health. And if you’ve ever visited a dentist, you’ve heard how sugar can be devastating to your teeth and oral health.

But with all these warnings, have you ever heard why sugar can be so harmful? Sugar is part of so many of the foods and drinks we consume, so it’s important to understand why you should avoid them as best you can. Here are several of the ways sugar is bad for your oral health, and what you can do about it.

Your mouth as a battleground

Your mouth is the entry point for the majority of what you put into your body. All the food (energy) and drinks (hydration) you consume enter through your mouth, so your mouth acts as a battleground between beneficial and harmful bacteria. Many studies have shown that some of these harmful bacteria produce acid in your mouth whenever they encounter and digest sugar. That means every time you consume sugar, these bacteria are producing more and more acid that eats away at your teeth.

Your saliva combats this damage, but consuming large amounts of sugar means there’s more acid than your saliva can handle alone. The repeated cycle of acid attacks on your teeth causes mineral loss in the shiny, protective layer around your teeth called the enamel. Over time, this acid weakens and destroys the enamel, forming a cavity.

Sugar changes the acidity in your mouth

The two destructive types of bacteria found in the mouth are Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus. Both types of bacteria feed on sugar and form plaque, which is the sticky substance dentists clean from your teeth during a routine visit. If this plaque is allowed to sit on your teeth and is not washed away by brushing or saliva, it will eventually become acidic and eat away at the enamel on your teeth.

Sugar attracts bad bacteria

Along with creating enamel eating acids, sugar attracts the tiny bacteria that cause gingivitis and gum disease. These diseases can cause your gums to recede away from your teeth and destroy the protective tissues that hold your teeth into place.

Effects of solid sugars on teeth

Sugar is in more foods than you realize. There are natural sources of sugar, like fruits, vegetables, and honey, but you can also consume sugar by eating common snacks like chips and cookies. Foods containing high amounts of white processed sugar are particularly damaging because these foods leave a sticky residue on your teeth that is too strong for your saliva to wash away. The only way to remove this residue is by brushing, flossing, mouth wash, and dental cleanings.

While you should practice moderation in all sugar consumption, frequent snacking on foods high in sugar increases the amount of time your teeth are exposed to the dissolving effects of these acids. This causes tooth decay.

Effects of sugary drinks on teeth

Drinking sugary drinks can have an even more devastating effect on your teeth than eating sugary foods. Along with sugar intake, many beverages like soda have their own acidity that’s bad for your teeth along with the acids created by sugar. According to a study from Finland published in 2014, drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages a day was linked to a 31 percent higher risk of cavities forming in your teeth.

Beverages containing high fructose corn syrup are especially damaging. This sweetening substance, which is found in many sodas and sugar-sweetened drinks, coats your mouth in toxins and creates a sticky film over your entire mouth. Bacteria breed on this film, creating acids and causing cavities.

Sugary foods and drinks that cause tooth decay

There is sugar in so many foods and drinks you consume that it may seem overwhelming to find a way to rid unnecessary sugar from your diet. However, you can begin with the most harmful version, processed or refined sugar, like the kind found in candy, ice cream, potato chips, pre-packaged snacks, and soda. Instead, try to eat more foods high in fiber and protein like nuts, cheese, and leafy greens to promote strong teeth.

Also, vegetables like carrots and celery are even better for your teeth in that they naturally remove plaque and bacteria from the surface of your teeth. Drinking plenty of water during and after eating promotes saliva production and cleans your mouth from bacteria and food particles.

While consuming large amounts of sugar is detrimental to your oral and overall health, consuming a sugar substitute called xylitol can help prevent cavity-causing bacteria. This sugar-alcohol substance is found commonly in sugar-free gum, sugar-free mints, and different kinds of toothpaste.

Family Dentistry at University General Dentists in Knoxville, TN

Sugar is so prevalent in the foods and drinks we consume that it can feel overwhelming to try and remove it from your diet. But now that you know just how bad sugar can be to your oral health, start with simple steps like removing refined, processed sugar, or high fructose corn syrup. By changing your diet and removing these sweeteners, you can significantly reduce the risk of developing problems with your teeth.

Are you ready for clean, healthy teeth? Practical, everyday dental care can be simple, and we want to be your guide as you create long-lasting, impactful practices for your diet, dental, and overall health needs. At University General Dentists, we provide family dentistry services to help keep your loved ones’ smiles healthy and strong. We believe in caring, attentive, and respectful dental care, and we provide everything from routine checkups to extensive dental repairs with the latest state-of-the-art technology.

We have two convenient Knoxville dentist locations. Schedule an appointment at our University of Tennessee Medical Center office at 865-305-9440 or our West Knoxville office at 865-500-5700.