The truth is, sugar exposure only causes tooth decay when the mouth has an abundance of cavity-causing bacteria that can process that sugar into enamel demineralizing acids and/or sugar is consumed in large amounts frequently throughout the day. Individuals that do not have a high bacterial challenge or a high quantity of cavity-causing bacteria on their teeth are at lower risk for sugar consumption causing cavities.
So… how do you eat sugar and avoid cavities?
1. GET TESTED
Many dentists now have the ability to test for the magnitude of cavity-causing bacteria on your teeth using the CariScreen Caries Susceptibility Test. If you test high, eating sugar can mean your teeth are exposed to more acid than if you test low, you want to starve the strep mutants to death, don’t feed them sugar. The dentist can also recommend ways to lower the number of bad bacteria on your teeth.
2. LIMIT FREQUENCY
Every time we eat our teeth are exposed to acids and our bodies are naturally wired to defend against this acid attack. But a healthy mouth is only designed to handle 4-5 acid challenges a day before it is overwhelmed and teeth begin to demineralize. If you are going to eat sugar, limit it to a desert at a regular mealtime rather than snacks between meals.
3. PICK THE RIGHT SWEETS
Some sugary snacks are worse than others. Candies that slowly dissolve, are sticky, or also contain added acids as part of their recipe should be avoided. Instead, choose sugary snacks that can be enjoyed without the added acids or long-term exposure in the mouth. For example, a dark chocolate may be a better choice than a chewy fruity candy that also contains citric acid.
4. BOOST IT!
After eating sugar, help your body’s natural defenses against cavities by boosting the pH in your mouth back up to healthy levels. A pH of approximately 7 is a normal healthy pH and there are a number of ways to get your pH up after eating or sugar exposure. Products such as Xylitol Gum are extremely popular and specifically designed to boost the pH in the mouth after an acid attack and fight bad bacteria with xylitol.
5. BEWARE THE ACID BATH
Fruit juice, sports drinks, and sodas are all not only acidic, but they also contain sugar for a potential double whammy on your enamel. Minimizing the amount of time you are bathing your teeth in acid is essential to avoiding acid erosion, and unhealthy, rough, chalky looking teeth. Keep those drinks two mealtimes and DO NOT SIP! Little sips of sugary acid will be the death of a healthy bright smile.
Avoiding sugar and maintaining a healthy bright smile can be done easily if you watch your pH and avoid creating an ongoing acidic oral environment. Your dentist and hygienist are likely enjoying just as many sweets this holiday season, but they know how to manage their oral environment and avoid acid erosion and cavities. Now you do too! And please remember to floss!