Does Sugar Cause Cavities?

How is it possible to get cavities if you don’t eat that much sugar? Is sugar the only cause of tooth decay? Could it be that other types of sweets or sugar-substitutes increase your risk of getting a cavity?

Sugars Increase Acid Production and Risk of Cavities

Each type of food has different chemical properties and pH levels. Sugars are simple carbohydrates. They’re broken down quickly, starting when they come into contact with saliva. When this process happens, acidic byproducts are created, fueling additional plaque formation. Even artificial sweeteners contribute to this process (“sugar free” doesn’t mean “cavity free”!)

It’s plaque that processes the sugar, creating additional acids inside of the mouth. Higher levels of acids and more frequent exposure — such as eating sugar on a frequent basis — can increase cavity formation.

Sugar is often used as an additive to make foods more palatable, it’s also found naturally in many products such as milk and fruit juice. Eating food with any type of sugar, natural or not, will create an acid byproduct as soon as it’s broken down by saliva.

There are actually some types of sugars that are good for your teeth, such as xylitol. As a 5-carbon sugar, xylitol physically prevents plaque biofilm from adhering to your teeth. The sad news is that eating too much of it can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Saliva Creates Acid Out of Other Foods

Every time you eat, your saliva breaks down food particles to prepare them for the digestive process. One of the results of that break-down is an acidic byproduct, which fuels dental plaque. Each time you eat, the acid lasts for about half an hour inside of your mouth.

So in theory, snacking more frequently can raise your risk of cavities. Especially with certain types of foods. Sugar being one, but carbohydrates being another.

Drinks like diet soda and sports drinks are just as — if not more so — dangerous to your tooth enamel as a naturally sweetened soda.

If you have more dental plaque on your teeth, your mouth will be creating even more biofilm byproducts each time you eat. So brushing your teeth throughout the day can help you lower your risk of decay, along with less frequent snacking.

Some Sugars are Worse Than Others

Did you know that the type of sugar you consume can make you more likely to get cavities than other types of sugar?

For example, liquid sugars — like what you find in a soda or flavored coffee — coat your teeth and all of the grooves and crevices. The sugars seep down into hard-to-reach areas and as a result, raise your risk of decay. Sticky foods like candy that adhere to your teeth for a long time can also be “worse” on your smile than options like chocolate, which quickly melt away.

Fight Cavities Before They Start

The best way to combat tooth decay is to brush and floss daily, drink plenty of water, and schedule regular checkups with your dentist. During your six-month checkup, be sure to ask about options like fluoride varnish or protective sealants to safeguard your smile even further against the risk of decay.

Visit your Kois Center dentist at least twice per year.