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Sugar & Your Teeth – 5 Biggest Myths

Sugar for your teeth health

Sugar is bad for your teeth – this we can all agree on. However, there are a few other popular assumptions that might not be so reliable. We, the Mythbusters from Smiles Unlimited are here to solve all your dilemmas.

Let’s break down the most common myths about sugar and your teeth.

1. Your teeth like “diet” drinks…

Stay away from sugary soft drinks
Stay away from sugary soft drinks.

This logic seems obvious; if the sugar in drinks is damaging, then the sugar-free version must be fine, right?  Surely you can have as much sugar free coke as you’d like without any ill effects on your teeth?

This one falls heavily into the myth category. In fact, the University of Michigan looked at the damage done to teeth by Coke and Diet Coke. The findings showed that after 14 days’ exposure to teeth, the diet version had done slightly more damage to tooth enamel than the standard version. Whatever advantages these diet drinks might have in other aspects, saving your enamel is definitely not one of them.

Many sugar free drinks are high in phosphoric acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid, all of which can damage the enamel in your teeth. This leads to decay and potential cavities or gum problems.

There are, of course, drinks that do little if any damage to teeth and it will surprise nobody to find that water comes top of that list. However, we appreciate many people do not want to limit themselves to only drinking water.

Tea and coffee are relatively tooth friendly (although they do stain), and milk is seen as a tooth-safe drink too.

2. You should brush your teeth immediately after consuming sugar

Dairy products
Brush your teeth regularly.

Well, you should brush your teeth after eating sugary foods because they have damaging impacts on your teeth. BUT…this depends on the type of sugar and what it has been combined with.

Brushing after consuming a snack with refined sugar – such as a biscuit, is great!

Brushing after orange juice – which pairs sugar and acid – not so much. 

When eating or drinking something acidic, the pH level in the mouth changes. So brushing straight after a drink or meal increases the risk of damaging the enamel. In these situations, it is usually better to wait an hour before brushing your teeth.

3. You should cut out all sugar

If sugar is bad for your dental health, then  surely eliminating sugar would lead to optimal dental health.

The problem with this logic is that dental health is not the only aspect of your health that needs to be considered.  There needs to be a holistic approach to your diet and health.

Yes, cutting out refined sugars such as those in sweets is always recommended for all spheres of health. However, not the “natural” sugars, fructose and lactose that you find in fruits, veggies and dairy. Food with natural sugars contain other important nutrients that help stabilise your blood sugar levels and benefit your overall health.

The glucose in refined sugars is broken down in the mouth, resulting in those nasty acids we mentioned previously, whereas fructose and lactose is broken down in your stomach. Though this does not mean that you should not brush after eating natural sugars as leaving those deposits on your teeth can still do damage.

To minimise the impact of the sugars and acids in food containing natural sugars, maintain a good oral health routine at home and see your dentist and hygienist as often as they recommend. This is usually for a clean every 4-6 months.

4. Little and often is better than one big dose…

What do you imagine is worse? One huge pudding caked in sugar that you eat in one sitting, or a packet of jelly babies that you have throughout the afternoon?

sugar myths for teeth health
A woman is smiling while being at the dentist

The former might be worse on the waistline, but the latter, continually picking at sugary treats, has far more potential to damage your teeth.

Each time you eat sugar and starchy food, the plaque bacteria in your mouth creates acid that chips away at the tooth enamel.

Normally, after around 1 hour, the damage dies down and the “attack” is over. Picking away at sweets, or slowly sipping at a sugary drink throughout the day creates far more opportunities for these attacks on teeth.

5. Sugar is the worst thing for your teeth

As mentioned above, the acid in foods and drinks can be just as damaging, if not more.

Alcohol also contains sugar and goes even further on the damage scale in that it can dry out the mouth, potentially leading to a buildup of plaque and bacteria which increases the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

It is best not to class one food/drink as worse than another because then we run the risk of avoiding the one food, and consuming too much of others.

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