Everyone knows eating too much sugar can lead to tooth decay, but few are aware of exactly how that happens. It's not the sugar itself that does the damage, but rather the chain of events that takes place after you eat that piece of cake. Your children may be more inclined to heed your warnings about the effects of sugar on teeth if they know about the continuous tug-of-war taking place inside their mouths. Here's how taking certain actions can prevent tooth decay from hijacking your family's oral health.
How Cavities Develop
The mouth is full of hundreds of bacteria, many of which are beneficial to the oral ecosystem. However, certain harmful oral bacteria actually feed on the sugars you eat to create acids that destroy the tooth enamel, which is the shiny, protective outer layer of the tooth. Cavities are a bacterial infection created by acids, that cause your teeth to experience a hole in them. Without treatment, cavities can progress past the enamel and into the deeper layers of the tooth, causing pain and possible tooth loss.
A Constant Battle in the Mouth
Your teeth are frequently under attack by acids, but the good news is this damage is constantly being reversed. Acids leech minerals from the enamel through a process called demineralization. Fortunately, the natural process of remineralization replaces those minerals and strengthens the teeth all over again – and your saliva is a key player. Saliva contains minerals such as calcium and phosphates to help repair the teeth. Fluoride is another mineral that helps repair weakened enamel. However, replacing lost minerals can only do so much to prevent the effects of sugar on teeth if you eat lots of sweets and starches throughout the day. Limiting your sugar intake is vital if you want to give your mouth a fighting chance to fix the damage.
Ways to Remineralize Tooth Enamel
Here are several tips for preventing cavities. In addition to cutting down on sugar, stimulating saliva flow is recommended to help bathe the teeth in minerals. Chewing sugarless gum and incorporating fibrous vegetables and fruits into your diet are good ways to salivate. Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products also contain calcium and phosphates to strengthen the teeth, and are much better choices for snack time than sugary or starchy treats. Additionally, green and black teas contain substances that help suppress harmful oral bacteria, so adding a few cups to your daily routine – without sugar, of course – can help maintain a healthy balance in the mouth.
Finally, fluoride is a mineral that not only prevents tooth decay, but also reverses it in its early stages, Dr. Johnson recommends professional fluoride treatments.
Constant vigilance is the key to preventing the negative effects of sugar on teeth. Encourage your kids to limit their sugar intake, brush away bacteria-filled plaque regularly and consume healthy foods that strengthen the teeth. Add regular dental visits and fluoride treatments to the mix, and you and your loved ones have the best shot at winning the battle against tooth decay.
Dr. James L. Johnson