The real impact of sugar on your teeth


Milk chocolate, jelly lollies, nougat, liquorice allsorts – when it comes to your teeth the finger of blame has traditionally been pointed at sweets. But dentists now tell us that a number of other foods are just as bad, if not worse for your teeth.


That’s not to suggest that sugary foods are, in any way, good for your teeth - far from it.  


What does sugar do to my teeth?

When you consume sugar, the bacteria in your mouth multiply like crazy and, in the process of breaking down the sugar, they produce acid. It’s the acid that does the damage to your teeth, causing decay, cavities and worse.


If you’d like to visualise this, think of your teeth divided into three layers: the hard enamel, the softer dentin and the inner most pulp.  If you consume sugary foods, the acid produced can eat through the first line of defence – the enamel and, if not checked, will keep going, eating through the soft layer under the enamel, and, finally into the third layer known as the pulp.


It’s bad news once your teeth are exposed to the pulp because this is where the nerves and blood vessels are housed. You can be in all sorts of pain by this stage.


Now that you’re a little bit scared, note that eating sweets can contribute to tooth decay, BUT so can lots eating lots of other carbohydrate-rich foods. AND it depends what types of sugary sweets you eat and how quickly you eat them and, what you do afterwards.


What other foods should I avoid?

The worst foods for your teeth are the ones that stay on your teeth the longest.  In this sense, eating a chocolate bar (which saliva removes relatively quickly) is likely better for your teeth than eating any of the following:

  • Dry biscuits,
  • Dry breakfast cereals,
  • Sultanas and other dried fruit,
  • Breath mints,
  • Potato chips.

That’s because these starchy or sugary foods all tend to stick around in the mouth, either by adhering to your teeth (like dried fruit) or clogging up the gaps between your teeth or, simply (as is the case with breath mints) taking a long time to consume. This gives bacteria plenty of time to feast and produce acid.


Our recommendation

You can still indulge your sweet tooth, without destroying your choppers, so long as you brush them regularly after eating sweets to reduce plaque build-up. And if you are going to eat something sweet, select a treat that you can eat all in one go. For example, opt for a chocolate bar over a packet of jelly lollies. This again reduces the opportunity for plaque to build up because the sugar will spend less time in your mouth.

This is not to say you’ve got the green light to indulge in as much sugar as you want. Sugary sweets are still bad for your teeth because they result in acid build-up. It’s not just your teeth you need to think about either. In recent years sugar has been linked to a range of other health problems from diabetes and inflammation to heart disease; it affects our whole body.


Realistically though many of us are not going to give up sugary treats, so when you do indulge, ensure you brush afterwards. Your teeth will thank you.