Fall is finally here, and more sugar is consumed during October than any other month. Collectively, Americans spend billions of dollars on this holiday each year — and a big portion of that goes to candy. Your family dentist knows this increased consumption can spell trouble for smiles of all ages. Keep reading to learn more about how sugars affect your teeth, and steps you can take to protect your smile this month and all year round.
Sugar’s Role in Tooth Decay
You have heard it said that one of the prime risk factors for cavities (aka dental caries or tooth decay) is a “high-sugar” diet. This can be a confusing way to think about it. A more accurate (and more helpful) way to think about the risk may be to think of it as a “frequent-sugar” diet. Why? Well, think of a piece of wood. If it is wet too much, it will eventually rot. It doesn’t matter whether it is dunked for a moment in a gallon bucket of water or in a 10,000 gallon swimming pool. Either way, it is just as wet and will take the same amount of time to dry. What makes a huge difference is how often it is dunked in water. What’s important is how much of the time the wood is wet. Tooth decay begins when the bacteria that are naturally present in your mouth use sugars to produce acids which dissolve calcium from the tooth enamel, weakening it. This is not necessarily a disaster, because in the early stages, if saliva can get to the surface of the tooth without acid and bacteria in the way, calcium will go from the saliva back into the enamel and repair the damage. But if the teeth are not brushed and flossed properly every day, the repair process cannot occur and the next dose of sugar and acid removes some more calcium. Frequent exposure to sugar leads to a very high risk for tooth decay, especially if a thorough cleaning is not happening at least once every day.
Children are especially vulnerable to tooth decay as their tooth enamel loses calcium more easily while it matures between the ages of 6 and 14 or so. During this time period, a love of candy and shaky dental hygiene habits can spell trouble for their oral health. It is extra important for parents to monitor brushing and flossing during this time.
Watch Out for Hidden Sugar Sources
Because it makes food and drinks taste good to humans, added sugar can lurk in most processed food items — sometimes in even the most unexpected sources. You will not be surprised that your child’s Halloween bucket packs a serious punch, but you should also take the time to check the nutrition contents of your and/or your child’s yogurt, granola or cereal, energy bars, or anything else where sugar could be lurking. While you are looking, be aware of this: when food labeling in the US says “sugar” it is usually talking about sucrose. Watch for sugars that are not called “sugar.” If the name of the ingredient ends in “-ose” (except for cellulose), it is a sugar. Some common ones are lactose, dextrose (which is glucose), and fructose. You will be amazed how much you have to search to find a food that doesn’t have sugar in it. Here’s a hint: Many brands of green beans do not have any kind of “-ose” added. While bacteria favor sucrose (it’s easy energy for them), they will convert any of these sugars into acids. Cutting back where you can will be good for your waistline and your smile.
Visit the Dentist This Month
Patients of all ages should visit the dentist at least twice annually, and autumn is a great time to schedule your second (or first) visit of the year. Book a checkup and cleaning for you and your child after Halloween to make sure that everyone escaped the sweetest season of the year without any harm. If your child is in the most cavity-prone years, placing dental sealants on their back teeth can help to protect those uneven surfaces from lodged food particles which accelerate the rate of decay. It’s a quick, painless, and highly valuable preventive procedure!
Do not wait to book a visit with your dentist this month or next — your smile will thank you for it.
About the Author
Dr. L. Blaine Kennington is a general dentist offering comprehensive dental care to patients of all ages. He encourages families to be especially mindful of good oral health preventive practices around the Halloween season, when candies and sweet treats abound. To book a checkup and cleaning for you or your child, do not hesitate to give the office a call at (360) 274-9100.