The Role of Sugar in Tooth Decay

Most of us have been told throughout our lives that too much sugar will cause tooth decay. But how much is too much? First, it helps to understand how sugar causes tooth decay.

Is Sugar the Problem?
It's actually not the sugar itself that causes tooth decay, though it is part of the equation. Decay is actually caused by the sugar we eat combining with saliva and bacteria in the mouth. The sugar feeds the bacteria, which then produces acids that ultimately cause cavities. Studies have shown that tooth decay can cause much more than a toothache; poor oral health can lead to ailments such as gum disease and even heart disease.

So what can you do to keep your kids cavity-free? Here are some helpful hints for tooth decay prevention. 

  • Limit sugary sweets.  Avoid letting your kids have candy, cookies and soda. Particularly damaging are sweets that stay in the mouth for a long time, such at hard candies, or sticky chewy candies like caramels or gummy bears. Instead, help your child to make healthy snack choices such as fruit, raw veggies, cheeses, nuts or whole-grain crackers.
  • Practice good oral hygiene. It's never too early to start teaching your kids about proper oral hygiene. From the first tooth (or even before) you can begin to teach healthy tooth brushing habits. Help your kids brush their teeth thoroughly at least twice a day, using a soft, kid-sized toothbrush. Brush all tooth surfaces, and the tongue to remove bacteria and plaque. Don't forget to floss! If your child does have a sugary snack, make sure to brush thoroughly afterward.
  • Get regular checkups. Regular checkups keep your child's teeth healthy in several ways. Thorough cleaning twice a year by a dental hygienist removes plaque below the gum line, and removes any tartar that has accumulated on your child's teeth. Checkups also serve to find early signs of decay; finding problems early means they can be fixed before too much damage is done. Your dentist may also recommend dental sealants or fluoride treatments to offer further protection against tooth decay.
  • Beware of hidden sugar. Sugar doesn't always come in the form of candy and sweets. Some foods that are commonly considered "healthy" foods can be just as damaging to teeth as candy. Dried fruits have a lot of concentrated sugar, and can stick to the teeth as badly as any candy. Juice contains as much, if not more, sugar than soda. Also beware of starchy foods, as starch does break down to simple sugars in the mouth, causing decay.

If you start early, and teach your kids healthy habits, you can ensure that they will have healthy teeth for life.

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