Sugar and Your Teeth

One of the few aspects of refined-sugar consumption about which many medical authorities have agreed for years is that sugar if allowed to remain in the mouth, causes cavities.



Because a little bit of sugar usually leads to a little bit more, in the form of high-calorie food or extra sugar in beverages, excess weight is a common reflection of a sugar-laden eating pattern. But your mouth, as well as your waistline, can be a sign of a high-sucrose diet. Dental caries is not a fact of life, just a reflection of how damaging refined carbohydrates in general and sugar, in particular, can be for your oral health.


Preventing cavities? Before you spoon any more sugar on your cereal, consider these facts:

  1. If a well-meaning friend or teacher told you that all sugars sucrose, maltose, glucose, fructose, dextrose, whatever are alike when it comes to cavities, don’t believe it. This information came from studies with rodents that are now discredited. These tests and others suggested that only the uncooked carbohydrate in wheat caused little or no danger of decay.
  2. If you had your choice among fructose, glucose, or the Finnish sugar substitute xylitol, which should you choose? According to Drs. Arje Scheinen, Professor of Cardiology and Kavko K. Makinen, Associate Professor of Oral Biochemistry, at the University of Turku in Finland, with xylitol you run the least risk of winding up with a mouthful of silver fillings. Using human subjects, this medical team clearly illustrated that no sugar does a better, faster job of destroying dental health than sucrose. Although all sugars have negative aspects, as discussed elsewhere in this text, fructose and xylitol both appear capable of causing an actual decrease in cavity count by one-quarter in the case of fruit sugar and as much as 90 percent in the case of the Finnish sugar replacement.
  3. If it causes plaque, it causes cavities. They found that two indisputable plaque precursors (which biochemists identify as fructans and extracellular fructose polymers) are natural components of table sugar. In these studies, although glucose, a starch/lactose combination, maltose, lactose, fructose, and sucrose were pitted fairly against one another, table sugar sucrose in each case emerged as the champion cavity-causing carbohydrate.
  4. What would happen if you ate a pound of candy over a long weekend and never brushed your teeth once? A test like this with school children was actually conducted in London by an oral health team at Guy’s Hospital. A hard-to-remove layer of plaque, with a high bacteria count, built up on their teeth. If unchecked, this could lead to substantially increased caries. I f you ate bread rather than candy and neglected to brush, the results wouldn’t be quite as bad. A second control group used in the cited study was fed on a wheat-starch confection, with far less plaque buildup after the trial period. This is not an isolated example, but a common outcome, as Dr. L.E.A. Folke et al. of the School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota discovered. When these experts ran a similar test to see if sugar was the culprit in stimulating bacteria to multiply on the teeth, they reached the same conclusion namely that a complex sugar called dextran, associated with sucrose, is the worst dental health vandal of all the carbohydrates, so powerful that even when subjects eat sucrose diluted 40 to 50 percent with glucose, dental damage may be just as extensive.
  5. Is it wise then to switch to sugar-free gum, or use fructose or xylitol-sweetened snacks? It seems not. Dental researchers make these points:
  • Oral organisms adapt to changes, too. This means that over a period of regular use, any sugar substitute begins to nourish your oral bacteria just as happily as sucrose did and with the same undesirable effect.
  • Although sucrose does it more efficiently and faster than other food, remember that an acid environment inviting decay can, in fact, be set up in your mouth easily no matter what carbohydrate source is used. The key to prevention is the immediate removal of all food residue after meals.


Cavities are not inevitable. They are not just a part of growing up that’s bound to cause you pain, trouble, time, and expense. To a considerable extent, dental disease, especially cavities, can be prevented, because to a large extent caries come from a high-carbohydrate diet, especially when accompanied by poor hygiene.


Plaque is a second skin that “grows” on your teeth and it is due to poor eating and cleaning habits. It is very much alive. It would have to be since it is composed of cells called leukocytes (white blood cells), complex carbohydrates, and various bacteria plus water. This unhealthy coating becomes acid after only a short period of time. If it is not removed by you, thorough brushing and flossing your teeth, you know what happens next. The acid causes fissures in the surface of the teeth and decay sets in. If you want to know whether you are flossing and brushing properly, ask your dentist for plaque disclosure tablets. When you chew these after flossing and brushing, they temporarily stain any remaining plaque on your teeth a garish pink. Scrape it off with floss before rinsing it off and practice your dental hygiene technique until you are certain you always remove all the plaque from your teeth. Besides regular trips to a dentist, proper cleaning and a diet that eliminates or sharply reduces refined sugars and starches are a must.

Carbohydrates from low-nutrient foods like candy bars, donuts, and white bread provide fuel for the proliferation of the microorganisms (heptocaucus metans) that live in your mouth. And this builds plaque, which literally attaches itself to your teeth like a sticky film.

Drinking and rinsing are inadequate to flush bacteria, sugars, and starches out of your mouth because once the process of plaque formation begins, these elements become stubbornly bonded together.

Sugary pies and chocolate bars aren’t the only carbohydrates to avoid if you’re fighting decay. Even naturally sweet foods from nature sun-dried raisins, for example, can lead to a mouth full of fillings if you eat too many too often and don’t remove the plaque with a brush. The stickier the food, the greater its decay-causing potential, even if eaten only now and then.

If you must have a carbohydrate snack, have some whole grain bread or a plate of raw carrots and celery with bean sprouts. The roughness of these nonsweet foods actually gives your teeth a healthy scrubbing while you chew. A diet that minimizes intake of simple sugars and is high in fibrous complex carbohydrate foods is the one most effective in preventing decay. Clinical tests indicate that foods composed largely of dextrose or starches provide greater dental health than those including sugars.

If your oral environment isn’t all it should be despite good eating habits, blame it on your genes. Genetics plays a role in how immune you and your children will be to the effects of various carbohydrates on your teeth. Stick-to-your-teeth, high-in-refined-sugar snacks should be the best way to ruin your teeth in short order but some people escape this comeuppance. On the other hand, you may have inherited saliva that puts any sugar you eat to work producing dental lesions 30 percent faster than normal.


Two reasons to skip the sugar that every expert, including your own dentist, will agree on: sugar is a quick way to gain weight and a fast way to ruin your teeth with cavities. Sucrose, common table sugar, works faster than other sugars in creating caries, especially if it is eaten in the form of anything sticky like candy or sugar-coated dried fruit.

On the other hand, switching to sugar substitutes will not save you from decay either, since it appears that sugar substitutes used regularly to develop the same caries potential as sugar. In addition to proper dental hygiene, remember that the foods that keep your mouth and teeth healthy are the same foods that build a healthy heart or a healthy head of hair. Substitute naturally sweet fruits for sugary snacks, choose foods that are raw, high in nutrients, and crunchy and chewy, not gooey.

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