As kids, we all heard the warning about eating too much sugar and causing tooth decay and rot in our perfect, pearly white teeth. It seems to be a valid concern, but how true is this all too popular red flag warning? Does eating too much sugar really cause cavities and tooth decay, or is it just an over exaggerated myth?
The first thing we need to explore is what exactly tooth decay is and how it starts. Tooth decay is when the enamel of your tooth wears down enough to the point that food particles and bacteria are able to get into the dentin of the tooth. When food gets into the dentin of the tooth and sits there for long enough to draw bacteria to it, that is when tooth decay starts to form. The food particles itself are not going to start decaying the tooth, but the bacteria that comes from it is what does all of the damage. The bacteria is a parasite and we as humans are their hosts therefore, they need to feed on something in order to stay alive and if the food particles in your teeth begin to wear away, the bacteria will then start to feed on your actual tooth and this is how a cavity forms.
Now that we know exactly what cavities are and how they form, we need to start to look at what types of foods can cause this damage to occur. Any food you consume can and will build up on your teeth causing the bacteria to form, however certain foods will cause more damage than others. When looking at the components of a particular food item you will want to look at carbohydrates, proteins and fats. You find more protein in foods such as meats, beans and cheeses. When a protein based food is sitting in your teeth bacteria will be drawn to it as a food source but it is not the food source of choice. The same thing can be said about fats, fats typically don’t hang around in your mouth as a solid, instead it will break down into an oil and therefore not really a main food source for bacteria.
Now that we covered proteins and fats that brings us to carbohydrates. Foods high in carbohydrates include, bread, pasta, and the all time favorite sugar sweets. Since carbohydrates are what make up sugar, it is no secret that these foods have lots of them. When carbs are consumed they will slowly break down into glucose molecules, which is just another word for sugar. These sugars will then be present in your mouth and teeth causing bacteria to form and sugar being their food of choice will be their first stop. Sugars are easily digested and seem to be a main source of nutrition for bacteria which is why dentist’s warn you of the dangers of eating too many sugary foods.
In conclusion, yes, sugar does put you at a higher risk for cavities and tooth decay, but so do other foods and food products left in your mouth for too long. It is important that you are brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing in between your teeth and keeping a healthy dental routine in order to prevent cavities and keep the bacteria away.
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