Just a spoonful of sugar helps the enamel go down

Mary Poppins may have extolled the virtues of sugar to help the medicine go down, but it would be remiss to follow her advice! You see all that is sugar is not so sweet when it comes to both our dental and physical health.

The threat

Unbeknownst to many of us, our mouths are battlegrounds where war is forged every day between good and bad bacteria. While sugar is not a direct weapon, Colgate explain that the harmful bacteria (plaque) feed on sugar “to create acids that destroy the tooth enamel.”

It’s when the plaque is allowed to take hold that the troubles really start. LiveScience explain the process as such:

“It can erode the hard, outer enamel of a tooth, resulting in tiny holes in the tooth’s surface. These holes mark the first stage of cavity formation.

And those tiny holes can do a lot of damage if left untreated. Eventually, the acid and bacteria in plaque can eat through the other layers of your teeth, as well — from the softer layer of teeth under the enamel, known as dentin, to the third layer (the pulp), which contains your teeth’s blood vessels and nerves. Cavities affecting the pulp of a tooth, as well as thebone supporting the tooth, can cause severe toothaches, sensitivity, pain when eating and abscesses in the mouth.”

Ouch.

As Oral Health Foundation warn, it’s not just your teeth that can suffer. After years of being told that fat is the enemy when it comes to our waistlines, it turns out that sugar is the real culprit. Sadly, being cheap as tuppence, sugar is EVERYWHERE and it’s leading Australian children to the brink of an obesity pandemic and a future of diabetes; Sugar Tax Submission report that “Australia is one of the most overweight developed nations, with over 60% of adults and one in four children overweight or obese.” The irony of course is that the poor oral health associated with excess sugar consumption decreases the outcomes in diabetes management, meaning a whole lot more medicine will have to go down… a vicious cycle!

Combating the threat

From a dentistry perspective, regular check-ups are essential to maintain the health of your mouth. Proper tooth brushing, twice a day, is also imperative:

“It is especially important to brush before bed. This is because the flow of saliva, which is the mouth’s own cleaning system, slows down during the night and this leaves the mouth more at risk from decay.”

It is worth stressing, however, that you should wait an hour after eating sugar before brushing; given the acidity present, premature brushing will compromise the tooth enamel. If you need some minty freshness, best to chew sugar-free gum during this time frame. But dental care is only half the story.

At the risk of sounding as unpopular as Jane and Michael’s nanny, Katie Nanna, we’re going to tell you that there’s one sure fire way to protect yourself from decay and diabetes, and that’s to cut back on the sugar. In fact, TIME reported that when:

“Researchers from University College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine looked at public health records [they] found that… ‘Only 2% of people at all ages living in Nigeria had tooth decay when their diet contained almost no sugar, around 2g per day. This is in stark contrast to the USA, where 92% of adults have experienced tooth decay,’ study author Aubrey Sheiham, emeritus professor of Dental Public Health at University College London, said in a statement.”

That said, we appreciate just how addictive sugar can be, so going cold turkey on the stuff may not be possible. In those circumstances Oral Health Foundation advise limiting your sugar intake to mealtimes, lessening the level of exposure. To the contrary, late night snacking can “restart the plaque-production clock and increase your risk of developing cavities.”

Following Britain’s lead and introducing a sugar-tax in Australia may be another way to dampen the allure of fizzy drinks, with the Sugar Tax Submission reporting “evidence suggests that applying a 20% tax to sugar-sweetened beverages would reduce consumption by 24%.”

Conclusion

There are a number of things you can do to lessen the impact of sugar on your teeth, and these include:

  • Consuming sugar at mealtimes only;
  • Brushing twice a day;
  • Waiting one hour after eating sugar to brush your teeth; and
  • Chewing sugar-free gum to promote saliva production.

However, we are going to have to channel the grumpy old bank managers who tormented poor Mr Banks here; if you value your teeth (and your waistline), it’s time to step away from that jar of Nutella, step outside and fly a kite!

Oh, and don’t forget to maintain regular appointments with us – while we believe prevention is better than cure, we also offer a range of services to counter a history of decay.