When you think of common noncommunicable diseases, you probably think of cancer, heart disease, stroke, or perhaps even diabetes. Perhaps surprisingly, then, the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide is actually dental decay or cavities.
With so many different cultures in the far corners of the world, it may make you wonder what the common denominator could be that links cavities among such diverse populations. In a word: sugar.
Here, our own Dr. Meriem Boukadoum at 54th Street Dental takes a closer look at how sugar affects your teeth.
Enamel protects teeth
Let’s start with a quick overview on the anatomy of a tooth. A tooth is made of four layers: enamel, cementum, dentin, and pulp. The super hero and the ultimate protector is the strong outer layer: enamel.
How strong is enamel? It’s actually the toughest material your body produces. This enamel is 96% hydroxyapatite, a mineral also found in your bones. The remainder of enamel’s chemical structure is magnesium, sodium, fluoride, and carbonate.
Despite its strength, enamel is vulnerable to factors that can weaken, damage, and breach it, and since it doesn’t contain any living cells, it can’t heal or repair itself.
Sugar and bacteria: A destructive duo
The biggest enemies that threaten the integrity of enamel are foods and beverages that contain sugars, but that’s not the end of the story. Cavities develop due to a combination of sugar, bacteria, and even acids. It plays out like a complex chemical reaction.
At any given time, your mouth is teeming with bacteria — both good bacteria and bad bacteria. Sugar attracts bad bacteria, and when it combines with the saliva in your mouth, it forms dental plaque, which is a sticky, clear film that develops on the surface of the teeth.
At the same time, the pH factor, the measure of acidity, can change. When plaque’s pH drops below normal, it can begin to dissolve enamel in a process called tooth demineralization. This demineralization is the first symptom of tooth decay.
Gradually small holes form, and if they’re left untreated, they enlarge until ultimately becoming a cavity, which may require a filling or crown.
Cut back on sugary foods and drinks
Cavities aren’t inevitable, though. Like many facets of your health, you can make lifestyle changes to mitigate the effect of sugar on your teeth.
A great start is to reduce your consumption of foods and drinks loaded with sugar. Food labeling makes it easy to compare the amount of sugar on almost every product.
Reduce sipping or snacking
Another great strategy is to reduce sipping or snacking throughout the day. Sipping acidic or sugary drinks like soda or snack foods like carbs just pump up the acids that attack your teeth and threaten your enamel.
Essentially, the more time you spend sipping and snacking, the more you’re bathing your teeth in acid all day long.
Maintain strong at-home oral hygiene
Keep in mind that when we’re talking about sugars, we’re not just talking about candy and sugary drinks.
Sugar is found in starchy foods like pasta, bread, and crackers, as well as carbohydrates found in snack foods like potato chips. These foods tend to linger in the mouth for extended periods of time and stick to teeth.
Brushing between meals can help remove harmful plaque. Don’t forget to floss before brushing once a day. Flossing removes food debris between teeth and keeps your gums healthy. If left unchecked, plaque buildup can not only lead to cavities, but also gum disease.
Go to your dentist for cleanings and checkups
While buttoning up your at-home oral care is important, some plaque simply can’t be removed by standard flossing and brushing, so don’t put off visiting your dentist for professional hygiene cleanings and checkups.
The caring team at 54th Street Dental offers excellent oral and dental care for the entire family. Contact us today by using the online booking tool to request an appointment, or call our office in the Midtown West neighborhood of New York City at 212-333-3200.