“Too many sweets are bad for you.” Who hasn’t heard this phrase or a variation of it as a kid? Parents often warn their kids about the dangers of sugar and tooth decay — and how too many sweets can make their teeth fall out unless they brush them regularly.
As years go by though, many start to take this reminder for granted. However, that doesn’t make the link between dental problems and sugar any less real or important. In fact, you might be in even greater danger from sugar now that you’re older.
Sugar is one of the primary culprits behind tooth cavities. Also known as dental caries or tooth decay, cavities are one of the biggest and most common public health problems in the world.
Cavities are caused by harmful bacteria that reside in our mouths. These bacteria mainly feed on sugar and carbohydrates, using the starches to produce teeth-destroying acid.
Specifically, the acid destroys the enamel or outer covering of your teeth and the dentine or bony tissue underneath the enamel. The acid also causes bacterial infections, which can easily take root within the tooth once your enamel develops holes due to tooth decay.
Dental caries or tooth cavities can lead to tooth pain or toothache, tooth abscess, infections, and even tooth loss. Cavities are a cumulative and progressive disease. This means it develops slowly and worsens as time passes. While this makes it possible to fight off or prevent severe cavities with regular brushing, it also means that neglecting oral hygiene can make tooth cavities more severe for adults.
Your teeth are not the only ones that can be negatively affected by too much sugar intake — your gums may suffer damage as well.
Dental caries or cavities that form underneath the gums can later spread and affect the gum tissue. This can lead to gingivitis or the first stage of gum disease.
Eating too many sugary foods can also lead to high blood sugar and diabetes, which raises your risk for gum or periodontal disease. Diabetes can change the flow of nutrients in your body, as well as how your body disposes of waste. In turn, this can weaken your gums and increase your infection risk.
Moreover, high blood sugar levels make it much easier for harmful bacteria in your mouth to proliferate. Blood sugar control also affects your immunity. It can weaken your immune system, making it harder for you to fight off gum infections and other gum diseases.
Eating too much sugar can not only cause tooth decay and raise your risk of gum disease — it can also increase the likelihood of teeth grinding when you sleep.
Teeth grinding or bruxism is another common oral health problem among both adults and children. If left untreated, teeth grinding can result in chipped, broken, or even missing teeth, depending on the force you exert when grinding your teeth and its frequency. This is why using night guards is crucial if you suffer from bruxism.
A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine found that excessive sugar consumption is a risk factor for sleep bruxism. Findings show that children who consumed more sugary food during the day exhibited an increased frequency of grinding their teeth when they sleep at night. This is why it is recommended to avoid consuming sugary food and drinks at least six hours before bedtime.
There are many harmful effects of sugar on teeth, as well as our gums. However, it is possible to prevent worse outcomes with the help of proper oral hygiene. Aside from brushing teeth daily, this also includes flossing, gargling with mouthwash, and using night guards to minimize teeth damage.
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