Growing up, kids are told that if they eat too much sugar, they get cavities. This isn’t a far stretch from the truth, as sugar consumption certainly plays a role in cavity formation, but sugar itself isn’t the cause of tooth decay. Understanding the science behind tooth decay can help people understand how to properly care for their teeth after eating or drinking sugar to best avoid cavities.
The answer to this question is no, sugar by itself is not the cause of tooth decay, but it certainly is a contributing factor. If the teeth aren’t brushed after eating a candy bar, cookie, or even fruit or other healthy foods, then bacteria in the mouth digest any sugary debris left behind. This produces an acid that forms a buildup of plaque on the teeth, which contributes to tooth decay if the plaque isn’t brushed away. Plaque wears down enamel, leaving tiny holes on the surface of the tooth, and acid and bacteria continue to wear away the tooth, leading to cavities, pain, sensitivity, and severe tooth issues.
Virtually any type of food will leave debris, so it’s important to brush after every meal to avoid plaque buildup. For this reason, it’s actually better to eat one larger sweet treat at a time and then brush, instead of sneaking a dozen bites of chocolate throughout the day, since each bite will restart the plaque buildup process.
The most obvious way to avoid plaque buildup is by brushing after every meal, although that’s not always possible. Good alternatives to sugary chocolate, hard candy, and sweets include sugarless candy, yogurt, and fibrous foods, which are better for teeth because saliva can wash away most of the debris on their own. Acidic foods like sodas and citrus fruits should be avoided until teeth can be brushed, and those can be swapped out for less acidic foods like green tea. Brushing and flossing daily and scheduling regular dental checkups and professional cleanings can also go a long way in improving oral health and preventing cavities.
Guri S. Dhaliwal DMD offers dental services to help improve and maintain your oral health, so call (925) 244-9770 to schedule an appointment today. We can determine whether your teeth have any cavities that need addressing, whether or not they came from sugar.