Tooth decay: Why it affects you and what you can do

Tooth decay then and now

During a simpler time, when a ‘spoon full of sugar’ was viewed as an indulgence, the incidence of tooth decay due to carbohydrate consumption was roughly 5 percent. Today, however, over 80 percent of American teens and adolescents alone have some degree of tooth erosion. What could have caused such a drastic decline in the health status of our pearly whites? For the answer to this question, we must look at observed changes in society’s food preferences.Traditionally, Americans consumed very few foods that were composed of refined sugars such as those found in soda pop, candy bars and several name-brand juice products. Instead, the staple nutrients were that of protein, fat and complex carbohydrates such as potatoes and whole wheat breads. Today, there is an increased level of refined or simple sugar in our diet. From that sweet cup of coffee each morning to the bowl of ice cream that serves as our evening treat, sugar has become a staple ingredient in a large percentage of the foods we enjoy eating. Unfortunately, research shows that with increased sugar consumption the prevalence of tooth decay rises significantly. Americans must be made aware that their sweet tooth does not know what’s good for it.

What role does sugar play in tooth decay?

Sugar is the primary food source for acid-producing bacteria that naturally reside within our mouth. When sugar is introduced to this destructive bacterium, it multiplies rapidly forming an acidic material known as plaque. The plaque coats our teeth and over time can be very destructive.

How can I protect my smile from tooth decay?

Because we are unable to eliminate all the acid-producing bacteria from our mouth, it’s important to take the necessary steps to reduce the amount of bacteria that naturally resides there. By decreasing bacteria’s access to sugar, it becomes harder for it to multiply, form acidic plaque and erode the tooth’s protective enamel coating.

How can one reduce bacteria’s access to sugar?

Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid drinking pop or other high-sugar beverages and if you do choose to drink them, do so only at mealtime
  • Choose healthy snacks that are low in sugar and starch
  • Begin the healthy habit of brushing your teeth following a snack or meal
  • When choosing candy, pick less sticky options like chocolate over ones that tend to remain on the teeth like caramel or taffy
  • Find out if the water in your community is fluorinated. If not, speak with your local health care professional about the benefits of fluoride supplements, especially if you have growing children
  • Visit your local dentist every six months for a dental check-up and cleaning