What you eat can make a stark difference in preventing cavities from forming and reducing the number of dental procedures needed to correct problems with the teeth, gum, and jawbone. Sugary foods, including sugary snacks and beverages, can create dental problems for toddlers, children, teenagers, and adults. Persons wearing dental appliances such as expanders, braces, aligners, or retainers are even more vulnerable. These are orthodontic treatments designed to straighten crooked teeth and correct jaw misalignment.
An orthodontist usually gives expert advice to patients regarding the importance of avoiding sticky or sugary foods while wearing dental devices. They are also warned about the effects of acid in the mouth and encouraged to get regular checkups to monitor their oral health.
How Sugar Causes Cavities
Your pearly whites are constantly under attack from bacteria and acid in the mouth, and eating sugary or starchy food frequently does not help. Sugary snacks set off a chain of events that can result in cavities particularly when brushing, flossing, and rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash is not done regularly.
The events leading to carries start with harmful bacteria found in the mouth such as streptococcus sobrinus and streptococcus mutans. These bad bacteria are delighted when sugary foods enter the mouth because they get an opportunity to feast on the sticky substance they contain while releasing acids. This process takes only 20 seconds!
Bacterial activity on sugary particles in the mouth causes plaque to form. Plaque is a sticky, off-white layer that forms on the tooth and at the gum line due to a buildup of bacteria, food particles, and saliva. In the absence of brushing and flossing regularly, the acid in the plaque will begin to destroy and poke tiny holes in the tooth’s enamel. The end result is a cavity. A severe cavity can cause a tooth abscess and lead to loose tooth or tooth loss.
Who is at Risk of the Sugary Effects on the Tooth?
Sweetened beverages such as sodas and sports energy drink are highly acidic and can cause tooth erosion and decay faster than beverages such as milk. Water, on the other hand, helps restore the pH balance in the mouth thus minimizing bacterial activity and lowering the concentration of acid. However, particles from sticky snacks cling to the tooth’s surface and are not easily removed by saliva or water. This means that the eating habits of certain people place them at a greater risk of tooth damage than others. They include those who:
- Snack frequently throughout the day
- Have a habit of sipping on sodas or sports drinks
- Eat sticky foods between mealtime
- Hardly drink water
- Have dental appliances such as expanders or metal braces
- Consume sugary snacks and beverages before bed
- Do not brush at least twice daily or use an interdental cleaner, e.g., floss
- Children who depend on parents to clean their mouths
- Babies who consume sugary infant formula
Types of Sugary Foods and Beverages to Avoid
Whether or not you wear braces or aligners, you should avoid consuming starchy foods and sticky sugary snacks. These foods attract bad bacteria that create an environment for tooth decay. In addition to good oral hygiene, avoiding the following foods can limit acid in the mouth and prevent cavities. These foods attract more bacteria than naturally sweet foods.
- Caramel or chocolate bars
- Chewing gum
- Hard candies
- Ice cream
- Sugary desserts such as yogurt
- Regular and “diet” soda
- Fruit drinks and juices
Effects of Sugars When Wearing Braces
Wearing braces can make oral hygiene challenging. It is much easier for particles from sugary foods to get trapped and remain under expander wires and brackets fitted to braces. It is also more difficult to clean teeth with braces increasing the chance for excess plaque buildup and a higher risk of cavities. Brushing at least 1 hour after a sugary treat and getting regular dental checkups are two important ways to combat bacterial activity in the mouth.
Preventing Tooth Damage from Sugary Snacks
While you cannot totally avoid all sugars, you can take steps to promote good oral health and reduce the level of acid in the mouth from consuming sugary foods. Here are some steps you can take to prevent tooth damage or carries:
- Avoid regular and diet sodas and energy drinks
- Reduce the consumption of sweetened beverages such as orange juice
- Use a straw to reduce tooth exposure to acid
- Avoid eating sticky foods such as candies
- Reduce snacking in between meals
- Drink water or gargle and rinse mouth after eating sugary foods
- Brush at least two times a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Rinse with a fluoride mouthwash after brushing
- Floss once daily
- Brush before bed and avoid eating after
Oral Care Tips for People With Braces
If you wear braces, there are additional steps you can take such as eating braces-safe foods. They include milk, mangoes, grapes, melons, bananas, fish, poultry, steamed veggies, and soups. You can also get expert advice from your orthodontist about the use of special brushes or cleaning tools for persons with orthodontic gear installed. Floss threaders and proxabrushes are more effective in getting to hard-to-reach areas in the mouth. Waterpiks are also effective. This dental cleaning device spurts water into the mouth to wash away plaque and food particles attached to dental appliances.
Getting Professional Oral Care During Orthodontic Treatment
While undergoing orthodontic treatment to fix your pearly whites, you are much more exposed to plaque buildup and the potential for carries. The amount of acid in the mouth and the risk of exposure to tooth decay depend on the frequency of snacking on sugary foods and the level of oral care.
During oral checkups, our orthodontists Drs. Gorton & Schmohl Orthodontics in Larkspur, California, takes time to educate individual patients on braces-safe foods and proper oral hygiene. You may also receive expert advice on the use of special cleaning tools for dental protection during and after treatment. Give us a call today to book a consultation and protect that smile you are eager to reveal at the end of your orthodontic treatment.
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The Real Effects of Sugary Snacks on Teeth (EPIC FACTS)
Dr. Jasmine Gorton, a Bay Area native, graduated from UC Berkeley with Bachelor degrees in both Integrative Biology and Social Sciences and then went on to graduate from Harvard with honors for her Doctorate in Dental Medicine.
She continued her education at UCSF with a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Growth and Development, followed by an Orthodontic Residency with a Master of Science in Oral Biology.
She is Board Certified in Orthodontics. She received the American Association of Orthodontics Award for Craniofacial Research and the Harvard Odontological Society Award for Excellence in Research. Her work on preventing decay around braces has been published in the American Journal of Orthodontics.