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Just a sprinkle of sugar can sweeten just about any food, beverage, or even medicine. Sugar is in thousands of products, from sports drinks to spaghetti sauce. In fact, sugar is in 74 percent of packaged foods. Because it is everywhere, sugar may seem safe. You might be surprised to learn that sugar can create far-reaching health problems, especially for your teeth. Why does sugar hurt my teeth?

The consumption of sugar has a direct connection to tooth decay, also known as cavities or caries. Tooth decay is a condition, in which the protective enamel covering wears away from the tooth. In time, a hole can develop to expose the layer of dentin that sits just beneath the enamel. Left untreated, tooth decay can eventually damage tissue in the pulp, which is the layer of tissue that protects the nerves and blood vessels that serve the tooth. At this stage, tooth decay can cause pain, infection, and even loss of the tooth.

How Sugar Causes Tooth Decay

A variety of bacteria lives in your mouth. Some bacteria are beneficial and contribute to healthy teeth and gums, and to good breath. Good bacteria also keep harmful bacteria in check. Harmful bacteria love sugar – sugar is a magnet for bad bacteria. In fact, bacteria even produce special acids that help them digest some of the sugar you eat. The bad news is that this acid damages tooth enamel.

What’s worse is that sugar combines with your saliva to create plaque, which is a clear, sticky substance that coats your teeth. Over time, plaque dissolves your tooth enamel, which leads to cavities.

Fortunately, you can take steps to prevent tooth decay associated with sugar consumption. Brushing after eating can control both plaque and bacteria, for example. Avoiding sugar-sweetened foods and beverages can also help.

How to Fight Back Against Sugar

Watch what you eat and drink

What you consume can affect your teeth. Cheese and dairy products, such as milk and sugar-free yogurt, contain protein and calcium to keep tooth enamel strong. They may also increase pH levels to make your mouth a less acidic environment. Chewing crunchy fruits and vegetables stimulates the production of saliva, which rinses away sugar, bacteria, and acids. When you do eat sugar foods or beverages, consume them during meals instead of between meals.

Use a straw

Sipping on sweet beverages bathes your teeth in sugar. Using a straw minimizes your teeth’s exposure to sugar, and thereby decreases the amount of acid produced by bacteria.

Drink water

Most municipal water supplies are fluoridated, which means the drinking water contains fluoride that strengthens tooth enamel. Drinking water also cleans your mouth to wash away leftover food and sugar, and help neutralize the acids in your mouth. Water also reduces dry mouth when your supply of saliva runs low.

Chew sugar-free gum

Chewing helps stimulate the production of saliva, which rinses away food and restores the pH balance of your mouth. Be sure to chew sugar-free gum to avoid feeding the unhealthy bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Good Oral Hygiene is Your Best Offense

As the old saying goes, the best defense is a good offense – and this is particularly true when it comes to defending your teeth from the harmful effects of sugar. Good oral hygiene is your best offense against tooth decay.

Brush twice each day to remove the food debris and sugars that feed the bad bacteria living in your mouth. Be sure to use fluoride toothpaste to keep your enamel strong. For best results, rinse with a fluoridated mouthwash or rinse.

Visit your dentist every six months. Your dentist can look for early signs of tooth decay or other problems. Your dental health professional can also offer more tips on keeping your teeth healthy.

For more information on how sugar hurts your teeth, consult with the dental professionals at Triangle Dentistry. Our dentists in Raleigh provide a wide variety of dental services to keep your teeth looking and feeling their best. New patients are always welcome!

Triangle Dentistry, located in Raleigh, NC, provides a state-of-the-art facility that offers exceptional general dental and specialty services guided by empathy of a patient’s needs and desires. Services range from dental crowns to veneers and whitening procedures. For further information, questions, or to schedule an appointment, contact the office at (919) 847-6000