Between Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day (coming up soon), most people have consumed a lot more sugar lately than they do during most of the year. While the occasional treat isn’t harmful, we’ve seen an increase in the number of cavities in our Boise dental practice. This trend is reflected nationwide, among nearly every age, class, and ethnic group.
Tooth decay is the big bad guy, the little problem that can lead to lots of big, expensive problems down the road, if left untreated. Fortunately, it’s something that we can do a lot to prevent.
What’s Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay occurs when acid breaks down enamel and dentine — the hard protective surfaces of your teeth — which is then able to slowly bore holes into your teeth, which we call “cavities”. Why is there acid in your mouth causing all kinds of problems?
The acid is produced by bacteria that are found within plaque. You might be familiar with plaque; it’s that sticky film that forms over your teeth when they are not clean. Snacks like candy and soda deposit small amounts of sugar on the surfaces of your teeth, feeding the bacteria in your mouth. That bacteria then produces an acid as a byproduct, leading to the aforementioned problems in your dental health.
Sugar – The Nemesis of Dentistry
Image source: https://formwell.com/sugar-not-friend/
Sugars in your food and drinks play a huge part in the development of cavities. As we said, it’s the byproduct of the interactions between sugar and bacteria in your mouth that is responsible for enamel loss in teeth.
While there’s always room for improvement, our society has become a lot better about brushing our teeth. The data shows that simply isn’t enough. Incidents of dental caries are on the rise, and a lot of sugar in our diets is the main culprit.
Here are a few numbers to show what I mean:
- 55.7% of children aged 6-8 have cavities in their primary teeth. About one-third will go untreated.
- 28.8% of children aged 9-11 years already have cavities in their permanent teeth.
- 90.9 % of adults aged 20-64 had cavities in their teeth, over one-fourth of which will go untreated.
I hope that you find these numbers as staggering as I do. Good nutrition and good oral hygiene — with the occasional Boise dentist visit — can knock those numbers down into single digits. Having multiple cavities shouldn’t be the norm; it should be the exception.
One of the biggest contributing factors is our sugar consumption. As a society, this is a growing problem that we need to address. Not only is all of this sugar decaying our teeth, it’s also growing our waistlines to the point that obesity threatens our national security.
How much sugar are we eating? Let’s take a look.
- The average American consumes 130 lbs of sugar every year. For comparison, in the 19th century, the average American consumed about 9 grams of sugar per day, which is one-fifth of a typical can of soda. The average American is now eating 17 times as much!
- While the average adult consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, the average child consumes a whopping 32 teaspoons of sugar per day, more than three times the recommended guidelines of health authorities.
- The average American consumes 53 gallons of soft drinks per year.
What to do to protect your teeth from sugar.
If you can manage to modify your sugar habits, you’ll not only find that your oral health improves, but you’re also likely to see improvements in body fat levels, cardiovascular health, and improved mental function. Here’s what else you can do.
- Replace sugar-loaded beverages with low-sugar alternatives. Soda and energy drinks are obvious choices, but even “healthy” alternatives like sports drinks, juice, or your morning coffee can be loaded with sugar. Stick to water as much as possible.
- Brush and floss your teeth. When it comes to dental caries, time is not on your side. Brushing and flossing after meals (particularly those with sugar) drastically reduce the amount of time sugar has to interact with the bacteria in your mouth. Don’t brush your teeth, drink some soda, and then go to bed. Dental caries can be the stuff of nightmares!
- See your dentist for regular cleanings. Not only is a detailed cleaning a nice thing to do once in a while, but it’s also a great chance to see how things are going in there. If decay is present, it’s quick and inexpensive to treat when it’s minor. If you avoid the problem until pain from an abscess forces you to come in, it’s going to be much more complicated to deal with.
Knowing the nutritional value of what you consume is a great start to protecting your health. When combined with a disciplined oral hygiene regimen and regular dental cleanings, your natural teeth can look great and last you a lifetime.
And a little extra sugar during the holidays is understandable (and hard to avoid). If you think you may have overdone it this holiday season, schedule an appointment for a check up and we’ll be happy to help you out!