The interplay between sugars and bacteria in tooth decay

patient at the dentist

Startling statistics show that 170 children and teenagers have tooth extraction procedures (under general anaesthesia) carried out in hospitals in England every day, which is an increase of 18 per cent.

Unbeknown to us, a battle is in constant flux in the mouth. It is the war waged on teeth and gums by the harmful types of bacteria (yes there are beneficial bacteria). When the balance shifts in favour of havoc-creating bacteria, teeth are at risk of decay. What will cause a shift in balance are the types of foods we eat.

The link between sugar and teeth-destroying bacteria

The consumption of sugar triggers a chain of events, where much of the blame can be attributed. Over time high levels of sugar consumption hastens on the tooth decay process. The concern surrounding sugar is that with the increase in sugar, bacteria are enabled to encourage the build-up of acid in the mouth.

The acids in return rob teeth of precious minerals that protect tooth enamel – a process referred to as demineralisation. Demineralisation weakens the surface layer of the tooth, making it vulnerable to the formation of cavities. Once a cavity has formed, dental care offered by a professional dentist is required to treat this dental problem, to prevent it from worsening.

The mouth is naturally equipped to deal with low levels of demineralisation through the production of saliva. Saliva plays two vital roles: it ‘washes’ away acids and implements a reversal process – remineralisation. Remineralisation (enamel repair) puts back lots of minerals into the mouth, as saliva contains calcium and phosphate.

Why food habits matter

Choice of snacks is important

The typical snack the average person reaches for are of the sugary variety (fizzy soft drinks included). Switching to healthier alternatives like nuts, seeds and yoghurt can go a long way to lowering exposure of teeth to sugar and acids.  Another tip to keep in mind is to reduce the number of snacks enjoyed during the day. It is a good idea to have a snack close to brushing teeth.

Avoid excessive exposure to sugar-laden beverages

Constant sipping on sugary drinks keeps teeth exposed to acids for an extended period of time. Beverages like water promote hydration and saliva production which helps in the remineralisation process.

Adopt a ‘prevention is better’ attitude

Happy male patient with dentist

Fluoride is a known ingredient that protects teeth. A factsheet on oral health and sugars distributed by the World Health Organisation (Europe) advocates improving access to fluoride-containing dental products like specially-formulated toothpastes and in-clinic treatments.

Regular dental appointments are also necessary to be certain that there are no potential problems that can escalate to complex dental issues. Patients need to understand that only a dental practitioner is able to accurately diagnose an issue and prescribe suitable treatment.

The important takeaway for patients is to put in place proactive measures that protect teeth. These dentist-approved measures cover a healthier choice in dietary habits, cleaning the mouth as recommended by the dental industry and include regular dental check-ups. Contact your dental clinic for more information on good oral care practices or to schedule a check-up with a professional dentist.

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