Sugar, Cavities, And Preventative Dental Treatment

Dental caries, also known as cavities, are common reasons why American adults routinely seek dental treatment. Ninety-two percent of 20- to 64-year-olds have had at least one cavity, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. With the high incidence of cavities in the adult population, understanding the causes behind dental decay is the first step in prevention. Take a look at how sugar, one of the top cavity-causers, is the culprit behind most cases of dental decay.

What Research Says 

Is the relationship between sugar intake and dental caries just an old wives' tale? Or is sugar a real dental danger? When researchers from University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reviewed records of worldwide tooth decay, they found that sugar was the root cause of the majority of all dental decay.

Likewise, research into the effect of sugar on children ages 6- through 18-years, also showed a similar effect. The study, which was published in the Journal of Dental Research, found that even lower amounts of sugar consumption could increase the cavity risk. Both studies also noted that the effects of sugar were still seen in the presence of fluoride.

Cavity Formation Process

When bacteria builds up on the surface of the teeth, plaque forms. This sticky film makes acids that eat away the enamel of the teeth. The result is a demineralization that allows a cavity to form.

Sugars feed the bacteria on the teeth, allowing decay to happen. Reducing the amount of sugar intake and cleaning your teeth regularly (especially after eating and drinking) may prevent dental caries from forming.

Sources of Sugar

There are plenty of sugar sources that may not seem like they contain serious amounts of the substance. Soda, sweet tea, and any beverage that contains fruit juice has sugar in it. Along with sugar-filled drinks, the fruit itself is something to watch out for.

Like fruit, other carb-heavy foods can also contribute to cavity formation. The bacteria that cause dental caries need carbohydrates to fluoride. Potatoes, bread, and anything else that has carbohydrates can feed oral bacteria and cause an environment that is primed for dental caries.

The fact that carbohydrates contribute to dental caries doesn't have to mean that you completely remove all sugars from your diet. Your body needs carbs for energy. The key is to create a healthy balance, choosing nutrient-rich carbohydrates (such as fruits) over empty calories. Again, routine dental care after eating sugar-filled foods can also reduce the chances of cavity formation.

Regular dental check-ups provide another way to reduce the risks associated with cavities. While preventative dental treatment can't reverse dental decay, the dentist can catch cavities in the early stages of development and stop the damage before it becomes something that's much more serious.