After hearing horror stories from your parents for years, you may start to wonder, “does sugar really rot your teeth or did my parents just want to stop me from raiding the candy jar?”
The truth is that sugar is no friend of teeth. It can promote bacteria and plaque and all the things that will lead you straight to a dentist’s chair.
Knowing why sugar is bad for your teeth and understanding how to avoid future damage is an important part of oral healthcare.
So keep reading to learn what you should consider before you reach for that lollipop or take a sip of sugary fruit juice.
How Much Can Sugar Affect Your Teeth?
Your mouth is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Of the almost 700 species of microbes in your mouth, some are essential to helping your teeth. However, some will also peel tooth decay, cavities, and lots of pain in the future. It’s not always sugar directly that’s the problem; it’s how bacteria use sugar.
What goes into your mouth determines how much these microbes grow. And as you can imagine, some of these microbes should flourish, but hopefully, the unwelcome ones are kept from growing!
When the harmful bacteria grow, it causes damage to your teeth. It can wear down the enamel of your teeth. The enamel is the bright and shiny outside part of your teeth. This is the tooth’s first line of defense for protection. It is also porous and semitransparent. That’s why you will see discoloration like when your teeth turn yellow.
You want to keep your enamel as strong as possible. But damaged enamel is only the first problem you may have. As we mentioned, it’s the first line of defense.
Does Sugar Really Rot Your Teeth?
Of all the undesirable bacteria in your mouth, Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus are two of the most damaging. And unfortunately for everyone with a sweet tooth, they love sugar.
But while we are enjoying all the lovely tastes of sugar, the bacteria will take sugar and turn it into lactic acid. That’s part of why sugar is bad for your teeth — it fuels the bacteria and provides the necessary materials for the acid that will damage your teeth.
The bacteria create a capsule from the sugar and sticks tightly to the teeth. Once the acid has been formed, it attacks the enamel. Once the enamels wear down, holes may appear in teeth. This decay can also be referred to as rotting.
So does sugar really rot your teeth? No.
But does it fuel the bacteria that does really rot your teeth? Certainly.
How Long Does It Take Sugar to Rot Teeth?
What can you do in 20 minutes? Maybe you go for a jog, drive to work, or watch an episode of your favorite show. What can bacteria do in 20 minutes? Start growing dental plaque in your mouth! That’s right, in the 20 minutes after eating, plaque begins to form.
Dental plaque is a sticky substance that can build up and cause tooth decay and gingivitis. However, in those 20 minutes, your tooth will not be completely decayed. For example, it can take anywhere from months to years for a cavity to full form. This means you have time to step in before real damage is done.
After you eat, some light dental care can truly help in the long run. When you understand why sugar is bad for your teeth, taking a few minutes in the bathroom to brush or rinse your mouth doesn’t seem so bad. While a tooth won’t decay in 20 minutes, plaque can add up to a cavity or two in less than a year.
Can Fruit Give You Cavities?
Fruit is a great addition to any diet for your overall health. Fruit is filled with minerals, vitamins, and fiber that will keep our bodies feeling fuller longer and far healthier. But can fruit give you cavities if sugar is bad for your teeth?
There are some distinctions to make when you consider whether fruit gives you cavities. One of those is whole fruit vs. fruit products.
Whole fruit is made up of natural sugars and all of nature’s benefits, including vitamins and minerals. There is acid found in certain fruits that make other fruits better for you. For example, citrus fruits like oranges may have more sugar and acids that will attack the enamel.
With too many citrus fruits eaten multiple times a day and a lack of dental hygiene, then the answer to “can fruit give you cavities” is yes.
However, with fruits in moderation, including less sugary, acidic fruits like berries, and good dental hygiene, it is unlikely that fruit can give you cavities directly.
But not all fruit is created equal, especially when made by humans! If you buy fruit from cans, the chances are that it’s been sitting in a sugary syrup. They may also have fewer vitamins that don’t survive the can. And we can’t pretend that fruit juices have the same level of nutrition as whole fruits.
Between the extra sugars and lack of vitamins, if your fruits come from cans and bottles, then the likelihood of whether fruit can give you cavities is greatly increased. Keep both these products strictly in moderation to avoid early tooth decay. Children are particularly at risk for cavities from these fruit products.
How Do You Stop Sugar From Damaging Your Teeth?
Knowing why sugar is bad for your teeth doesn’t mean that you should go your entire life without sugar again. As we saw with fruit, there are many benefits to sugary foods, even if too much fruit can give your cavities. So, how do you balance consuming delicious snacks and eating healthy fruits with maintaining good oral hygiene?
First, you will want to limit sugar and choose your sugary snacks carefully. Sugar really does rot your teeth when you consume too much. And it seems like sugar is everywhere nowadays. Cutting down on sugar will not only help your mouth but your overall health. It is recommended that only 10% of daily calories should come from sugar.
Here are some tips for limiting your daily sugar intake:
- When you want something sweet, reach for a piece of fruit over refined sugars. You’ll not only be more satisfied from the vitamins and fiber, but your mouth will thank you!
- Try to limit sweet treats to only after mealtime. This way, you don’t lose track of how much sugar you’ve been having.
- Have a goal in mind. If you go into the day knowing what and when your dessert will be, you can stick to that goal rather than find yourself perusing the pantry for candy.
The bacteria are why sugar is bad for your teeth. Some sugar in moderation will not immediately signal to your teeth that they should decay on the spot. Decay occurs over time. So simply reducing your sugar intake and choosing sugary foods with a purpose can help prevent sugar from really rotting your teeth.
How Can My Oral Health Prevent Cavities From Sugar?
We all know the typical standard of brushing at least twice a day. However, you can do even more for your mouth if you want to reduce cavities and tooth decay. We highly recommend that you clean your own teeth like a dental hygienist would on a dental visit!
- Rinse your mouth. This could be with water or mouthwash. Just swishing vigorously for 30 seconds before brushing will reduce the sugar and sticky residue. That way, when it’s time to brush, you can jump right into the important brushing and not the preliminary cleaning.
- Increase saliva production. Saliva helps wash away the sugars and residue in your mouth. To increase saliva, make sure you stay hydrated with plenty of water. You can also chew sugar-free gum.
- Brush after meals. Perhaps the first thing you do every morning is brush your teeth and then have breakfast. By simply switching the order of these habits and perhaps fitting in a quick rinse or brush after lunch, you can greatly decrease the likelihood of tooth decay.
- DO NOT FORGET TO FLOSS. Yes, this one is also a critical one. Make sure you understand not only “how” to floss, but make sure you understand the best flossing tools you need and how to use them.
If you have the right dental care routine, you can avoid stressing over why sugar is bad for your teeth and work on prevention instead. A few simple changes to your daily routine can make all the difference in your oral health.
Keep Your Teeth Safe from Sugar Damage
The good news is that the answer to “does sugar really rot your teeth” is not a direct yes. Every time you eat fruit or indulge in a sugary dessert, you’re not directly causing tooth decay. However, an overconsumption of sugar combined with a lack of dental care will surely lead to problems for your teeth.
The reason why sugar is bad for your teeth has more to do with the bacteria in your mouth. So using proper hygiene for your mouth and eating in moderation means you can worry less about whether fruit can give you cavities and focus more on enjoying your snack!