Everyone knows sugar is unhealthy; terrible for our bodies and our teeth. But sugars, in various forms, are in so many things we consume every day. It is common knowledge that soda, candy, cookies, donuts, cake, etc. are loaded with sugar. But sugars are also in products we might not normally think of, like pizza, coffee (if you add sugar), bread, yogurt, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, many soups, and almost every breakfast cereal.
We all know that limiting or reducing the amount of sweets we eat is a noble goal and certainly something I would recommend. As a dentist, I feel it is equally important to know that as far as our teeth are concerned, the total amount of sugar consumed is often less important than how it is consumed. For example, the dental impact of eating a few cookies while watching television can be lessened if you have a glass of milk along with the cookies. The milk has the ability to raise the pH in the mouth, helping to protect the teeth from the sugar in the cookies.
A glass of Coke, while never a good thing for our teeth, is better to drink along with a meal than as an afternoon snack. The meal acts to buffer the acidity of the soda, somewhat protecting the teeth. In addition, the longer the time that our teeth are exposed to acids and sugars, the more likely cavities are to form. For example, a mug of coffee with sugar added is better to drink over the course of 20 minutes, rather than sipping it periodically over the course of two hours.
Along the same line of thinking, eating a chocolate bar, which dissolves very quickly in our mouths, has a limited ability to cause cavities. Sticky candies such as Jolly Ranchers or caramels, can stick in the grooves of our teeth and remain there for longer periods of time, increasing the risk for cavities. Worse yet, is sucking on mints or cough drops (unless they are sugar-free) throughout the day. This supplies a constant “bath” of sugar to the teeth, and a high risk for developing cavities.
If you are like most people, sweets will continue to be a part of your life. Changing small things like when and how we eat our sweets can make all the difference to your teeth. Feel free to ask us at your next visit for other ways for you to reduce your cavity risk.