A Closer Look at How Sugar Affects the Teeth

March 31, 2021

tooth decay

Most people have heard that sugar is bad for your teeth, but few understand why that is the case. If you find it hard to resist the sweetness of sugar despite knowing it is bad for your teeth, it may help to learn exactly how it affects your teeth. This can make the idea of sugar damaging your teeth more concrete, potentially inspiring you to take action.

Background Information: The Bacteria in Your Mouth

To understand how sugar affects the teeth, you need to be familiar with some of the bacteria in your mouth. Like other areas of the body, both beneficial and harmful bacteria live in the mouth.

Of these bacteria, only a small group is relevant to your mouth and sugar. This group is associated with producing acid when they come into contact with sugar and digest it. (The bacteria in question include Streptococcus sorbrinus and Streptococcus mutans.) That acid then strips minerals from your teeth’s enamel in a process called mineralization. Remember that the enamel is the protective layer on your teeth that is shiny. The acid also increases your mouth’s pH level, which should typically be at a lower, healthy level on the basic side of neutral.

Our bodies developed a method to reduce this process, thanks to our saliva. Your saliva encourages mineralization. Mineralization is how the phosphate, calcium, and other minerals in the saliva replace those lost minerals, helping your enamel repair itself. These minerals are supplemented by the fluoride in water or toothpaste doing the same thing.

This is a constant battle, with the bacteria producing acid that causes demineralization and your saliva countering it with mineralization. Eventually, the demineralization manages to cause enough damage to create a cavity, which occurs when the enamel is destroyed.

Cavities are bad as they can spread deeper into your teeth. In the best-case scenario, they are just painful. In the worst-case scenario, they can make you lose your teeth. This is because cavities are holes in your teeth, and if they get large enough, they can lead to fractures on your teeth, negatively affect the nerves, or lead to tooth abscesses, a type of infection that can kill the tooth.

Sugar Worsens the Demineralization via pH Changes

Think back on the process of demineralization and mineralization. Remember that demineralization leads to issues like cavities. For many people, your saliva is already slowly losing the battle between the two. This is made worse by sugar. Both of the previously mentioned bacteria will feed on sugar when you eat it. This leads to a series of events that result in tooth enamel being further destroyed.

It starts with the bacteria forming dental plaque after eating the sugar. That plaque is a film that is colorless and sticky and sits on your teeth’s surface. If you don’t remove the plaque via brushing or with your saliva, your mouth will get more acidic.

That acidity worsens the demineralization, and the destruction to your tooth enamel gets worse, causing more cavities and dental damage.

Keeping Things Simple: What Sugar Does to Your Teeth and Mouth

Mixed into the above explanation, you will notice a few specific ways that sugar affects your tooth enamel.

It Changes Your Mouth’s Acidity

Sugar makes your mouth more acidic, increasing its pH level. Naturally, your mouth has a low pH level, and that is your goal. Remember that high pH levels are acidic. The acid in your mouth can damage your tooth enamel, leading to cavities.

It Encourages Bad Bacterial Growth

By making your mouth acidic and producing acids, your mouth encourages the growth of harmful bacteria. These bacteria not only cause cavities but are also associated with gingivitis and other gum diseases.

Brush After Eating Sugar

Ideally, you will avoid sugar, but that is not feasible for most people. The next best thing is to brush as soon as possible after eating or drinking it. You should also promote overall oral health to reduce the negative effects somewhat. This includes visiting Dr. Dhiraj Sharma regularly for cleanings, as well as using mouthwash, in addition to regular brushing and flossing.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today!

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