Everyone knows eating too much sugar can lead to tooth decay, but few are aware of exactly how that happens. It’s not the sugar itself that does the damage, but rather the chain of events that takes place after you eat that piece of cake. Your children may be more inclined to heed your warnings about the effects of sugar on teeth if they know about the continuous tug-of-war taking place inside their mouths.
Sugar and tooth decay
Sugars in food and drinks play a major role in the development of dental caries. Bacteria within the plaque use the sugar as energy and release acid as a waste product, which gradually dissolves the enamel in the teeth.
In 2010, the World Health Organisation (WHO) commissioned a systematic literature review to answer a series of questions relating to the effects of sugars on dental caries. The systematic review showed consistent evidence of moderate quality supporting a relationship between the amount of sugar consumed and dental caries development. There was also evidence of moderate quality to show that dental caries is lower when free sugars intake is less than 10% of energy intake. Dental caries progresses with age, and the effects of sugars on the dentition are lifelong. Even low levels of caries in childhood are of significance to levels of caries throughout the life-course. Analysis of the data suggests that there may be benefit in limiting sugars to less than 5% of energy intake to minimize the risk of dental caries throughout the life course.
Free sugars are now found in almost all food and are the most important factor in the deterioration of oral health. It is especially problematic in children who have become accustomed to sugar at an early age.
Who is at risk of tooth decay?
Everyone is at risk of tooth decay, but children and adolescents are most at risk. Dental caries are the most common cause of tooth loss in young people. Plaque begins to build up on teeth only 20 minutes after we begin eating and if it is not removed effectively, tooth decay starts. People who regularly consume sugar have a higher risk of developing dental caries, particularly if the food they eat is sticky or consumed in between mealtimes. Sugars-containing snacks and sugars-sweetened beverages have particularly bad effects on teeth. People who smoke and consume alcohol are also more at risk .
Constant vigilance is the key to preventing the negative effects of sugar on teeth. Encourage your kids to limit their sugar intake, brush away bacteria-filled plaque regularly and consume healthy foods that strengthen the teeth. Add regular dental visits and fluoride treatments to the mix, and you and your loved ones have the best shot at winning the battle against tooth decay.