What does sugar do to your teeth?
Posted 24th May, 2017
With National Smile Month 2017 in full swing, we thought it’d be a great time to get into the key message of reducing our sugar consumption by taking a look at just what sugar really does to our teeth.
The oral ecosystem – a life of its own
The human body is a complex organism and contains many of its very own ecosystems. The mouth is just one of these. Our teeth and gums are surrounded by a sea of bacteria. Some of these are good for us and help to repair and restore the teeth, whilst others are harmful and responsible for creating acid and attacking our teeth. Essentially, our mouths contain a bacterial battleground in which these two forces are constantly fighting for victory. One of the single biggest factors that determines which of the forces wins is the amount of sugar we consume.
Stage one – the acid attack begins
As soon as sugar is introduced to your mouth, the harmful bacteria that are naturally present begin to feed on it, resulting in the creation of acids which then begin to attack the enamel surface of your teeth – the shiny protective layer that protects the more delicate inner layers of your teeth as well as the root. According to the British Dental Association, this attack can last for up to an hour every time you consume a sugary food or drink. If you consume sugar regularly, such as is typical at Easter, the acid is able to attack for prolonged or even constant periods of time.
As acids keep on attacking the teeth, they cause the minerals to be removed from the enamel. This is called demineralisation. The fight against demineralisation is led by your saliva. Saliva is rich in calcium and phosphates, which help to replace the minerals and repair the damage caused by acid. This important work can be supported by using a fluoride toothpaste which also helps to strengthen the enamel.
Stage two – when cavities form
The outside layer of enamel is the hardest part of the tooth, and its job is to protect the softer and highly sensitive inside layers. If the acid is allowed to continuously attack the enamel, the surface becomes porous and eventually cavities will form. These are essentially holes in the protective layer, which if left untreated can continue to grow and gradually penetrate deeper. In adults, it typically takes at least six months for a cavity to form. Children, however, have softer enamel and cavities can take hold in as little as three months. If the cavity reaches all the way to the inside where the nerve endings are, it will result in discomfort and toothache.
Stage three – when tooth decay kicks in
Once a cavity has taken hold and the damage has extended into the softer inner layer known as dentine, it becomes known as tooth decay. At this stage, it can usually be treated by thorough cleaning followed by a filling. Left unchecked, tooth decay can progress until the root of the tooth is damaged and eventually destroyed, usually leaving little choice but to remove the tooth.
Whilst tooth decay remains one of the most common causes of tooth loss, the good news is that a combination of good eating and drinking habits, good brushing and regular visits to the dentist mean that it is also very avoidable.
Here at Gwersyllt Dental Practice in Wrexham, we are passionate about promoting a proactive, preventative approach to dentistry for all the family. We help our patients of all ages to maintain a healthy mouth and a happy smile. To find out more about what we can offer or to book an appointment now, call us on 01978 757409 or enquire online here for a swift response.