With Halloween on the horizon, children and adults nationwide will be enjoying their favorite chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel treats for the next several weeks. This is the time of year when Halloween treats are followed by Thanksgiving pies and desserts and ultimately supplemented by a month-long binge of fudge, cookies, and sweet drinks around the winter holidays. While there is no harm in enjoying yourself during these festivities, it is well known that excess sugar consumption is bad for your teeth.
Or is it?
We have been taught since our childhood that “sugar will rot your teeth” and to be mindful of how many suckers we eat or how much soda we drink. While this advice is advantageous for a number of health reasons, the direct effect on our teeth is much more complicated than chomping away at a sleeve of cookies or drinking a liter of soda.
The fact is, “Tooth decay is caused by acid-producing bacteria in your mouth that feast on carbohydrates, be it sugar from candy or starch from wholesome foods such as bread,” according to Christopher Wanjek, author of Bad Medicine and Food at Work. “Potato chips and raisins cling to your teeth, giving the bacteria something to savor. But a simple chocolate bar can get washed away naturally with saliva. The faster a food is removed, the less chance it will have to feed bacteria and cause decay.”
So while the chemical structure of sugar is a delicacy for cavity-causing bacteria, sugar itself is not the culprit. Leaving carbohydrates in your mouth and on your teeth after eating or drinking allows the bacteria to feed off it and create the acid that corrodes your enamel. In the end, you need to pay attention to the amount of time your teeth are exposed to the carbohydrates—not necessarily how much you consume. Continuous exposure will obviously lead to increased tooth decay.
Ask the Experts
As you can imagine, the American Dental Association has performed extensive research on this topic throughout the years. According to an ADA Study on Diet and Tooth Decay, “Each and every time bacteria come in contact with sugar or starch in the mouth, acid is produced, which attacks the teeth for 20 minutes or more.” There are ways to counteract this acid, such as washing down sugary drinks and foods with plenty of water, but the fact of the matter is these bacteria will produce the acid, nonetheless.
So, is sugar bad for your teeth? The answer lies in your own practice of dental hygiene. Brushing twice a day, flossing, and using some form of oral rinse will dramatically reduce your chances for overall tooth decay and gum disease. Avoiding prolonged tooth exposure to sugary drinks and sugary snacks in between meals will also complement your cleaning. In the end, the answer is yes and no. Deciding which answer applies to you is based upon your personal oral hygiene habits and the opinion of your dental practitioner.