Sucrose, the refined form of which is commonly referred to here in Ireland as granulated sugar, is the leading cause of tooth decay, but it is most certainly not the only culprit.
Although sugary foods, including sweets, biscuits, and fizzy soft drinks, are major offenders, starchy foods (such as breads and cereals) also play an important part in tooth decay. When starches mix with amylase which is an enzyme in saliva, the result is effectively an acid rinse that erodes the tooth enamel and makes teeth more susceptible to decay. If starchy foods linger in the mouth, this acid rinse is prolonged, and the potential for damage is even greater.
If you’re a fan of eating dried fruit be careful. Dried fruits can have a detrimental effect on teeth, because they are high in sugar and stick to the teeth. Even unsweetened fruit juices can lead to tooth decay — they are acidic and can contain high levels of simple sugars.
Is fresh fruit better?
Fresh fruits, particularly apples, are better choices. Fresh fruit, although both sweet and acidic, is much less likely to cause a problem, because chewing stimulates the saliva flow. Saliva decreases mouth acidity and helps wash away food debris. Apples, for example, have been called nature’s toothbrush because they stimulate the gums, increase saliva flow and reduce the build-up of cavity-causing bacteria. This is why sugar free gum is also recommended after eating as it has the same effect.
Be careful of fruit juices
Of course the above only applies to fresh fruit. The current trend for juice diets or smoothies can wreak havoc on dental health as they can contain even more sugar than fizzy drinks such as cola. You only have to look around to see people on the tube or on the street drinking juice drinks feeling it’s the healthy option when it’s not. If you are going to drink these high sugar fruit juices don’t brush your teeth immediately, wait 45 minutes otherwise you could be brushing away enamel weakened by the fruit acids. Allowing time for the saliva to rebalance the acid means the enamel can regain its natural strength.
Be vigilant on your sugar intake, you only have one set of teeth and it’s your job, and ours, to keep them healthy for life.
If you have any questions on this topic, please feel free to ask Mary, Cliona, Zita or your Hygienist at your next appointment.