Sugars and Tooth Decay

July 7, 2023

By Dr. Nicole Shen

It is common knowledge that dietary sugars adversely affect dental health.  However, it is a misconception that refined sugars (white or brown “sprinkling sugar”) are the only culprits to cause tooth decay.  Indeed, all types of sugars can be harmful to the teeth, including sucrose (common table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), glucose (sugar by-products of carbohydrates), lactose (milk and dairy sugar), and maltose (grain and alcohol sugar).  

Why does sugar cause tooth decay?  Bacterial plaque, a thin film of sticky germs that can cover the tooth surface, digests the sugar and causes an acid residue to form on the teeth.  This acid then breaks down the tooth enamel and leads to the formation of a cavity.

Therefore, in order to minimize the destructive effects of these acid producing bacteria, we need to reduce our intake of dietary sugars, and especially avoid the retentive sugars that really stick to the teeth (candy, soda, jams, etc.). It is important to note that it is not just the amount of sugar consumed, but also the frequency and duration of exposure to sugars. Continuous or prolonged exposure to sugars, especially when they are in contact with teeth for extended periods, can increase the risk of cavities. Proper brushing and flossing are required to dislodge any food debris from the teeth and create a clean environment free of bacterial plaque, which will then reduce the incidence of dental decay.

This article was published on 07-7-2023 in The Altamont Enterprise.