Sugar Ain’t So Sweet

colorful candy drops (red, green, yellow)

We’ve all been told as kids that candy causes tooth decay, but this statement bears more significance than you might think. Children are more susceptible to tooth decay than adults because their enamel is not yet fully developed, which is why information about tooth decay always focused on children. But adults are also at serious risk for oral issues as a result of sugar. Having sweets on occasion is okay, but an excess of sugar in your diet can have permanent consequences on the health of your mouth, as well as your body. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. government released new dietary guidelines urging Americans to curb their sugar intake for improved oral and overall health.

Unfortunately, avoiding sugar isn’t easy. Every day we are bombarded with advertisements for candy, soda and other sugar-loaded snacks, and probably witness other people consuming them constantly. You need to know the facts about these sweet treats take care of your body and be the healthiest you can be.

It’s not the sugar itself that does the damage to your teeth. Instead, that sugar feeds and fosters harmful bacteria found in the plaque on your teeth that cause tooth decay. As these bacteria feed on the sugar from the candy, they use it to produce acid, which causes the enamel of your teeth to break down. That can lead to major problems like cavities and tooth decay. Eating sugary foods and neglecting to properly clean your mouth afterward gives these harmful bacteria the chance to thrive off the sugar and produce harmful amounts of acid. More sugar in your diet adds more fuel to bad bacteria, which means more rapidly tooth decay will occur.

Candy is generally horrible for your teeth, but some candies are worse than most. Sticky candies like Tootsie rolls are the most dangerous because, as you might have guessed, they have the ability to stick to your teeth and wedge themselves into tiny nooks and crannies that are hard to get at with a toothbrush. Also, any type of sour candy is especially bad because these candies contain high levels of acid, which wears down tooth enamel. Other worst candies include lollipops, gummy worms, and jujubes.

Another major threat to oral health is soda. It may seem obvious, but the seriousness of this issue cannot be stressed enough. Soda, like candy, contains tremendous amounts of sugar along with acids that are often added as preservatives. These two ingredients together can produces a greater demineralizing effect in your mouth, leading to what looks like tooth decay on steroids! A recent study was conducted in which a tooth was left in a cup of soda for five days. Over the span of time, the tooth shriveled to nearly half of its original size. That says it all.

What might surprise you is that sugar-free or diet sodas are hardly any better! Although free of sugar, diet sodas contain the same acidic ingredients as regular soda, like phosphoric acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid. These acids directly erode tooth enamel, meaning that sugar, which normally serves as the fuel for acid-producing bacteria, isn’t even necessary for tooth damage. In both cases of drinking soda, the teeth are eroded.

So how can you protect your teeth from the harmful effects of sugary or acidic drinks? Well, it’s best to stop drinking them altogether. Unfortunately, many Americans struggle to kick the habit and teenagers, who are often more cavity prone than adults, drink the most soda. Although we as a country have significantly cut back our soda intake in recent years due to increased awareness of its health consequences, nearly 1 in 5 Americans still consumes 1 soda per day. Even that is one too many, but if you absolutely must, rinsing the mouth afterward with water and brushing your teeth soon after can minimize the results. Also, chewing some sugar-free gum beforehand to increase saliva production may help a little.

Public health officials around the world are now taking measures to discourage people from consuming sugary drinks. For example, Mexico has implemented a “soda tax,” which has led to sales of sugary beverages falling as much as 12 percent. California, New York, and Baltimore are working to pass similar legislation, which would require warning labels on soft drinks listing potential hazards and health risks. Leading this prospective list is tooth decay. If passed, this legislation will surely remind Americans to be more mindful of the role they have in their oral health.

We know more now about oral health and its great importance in relation to overall health than ever before. Our daily habits and choices have enormous effects on the well-being of the mouth. It’s up to us to take responsibility for our oral health through smart dietary choices and proper oral hygiene. Candy’s attraction is short lived, your health comes first.