Recovering from the Sugar-Filled Holidays

The holidays are filled with fun, family, and festivities.  Unfortunately, they are also usually filled with bad habits.  We eat and drink more than usual.  We have inconsistent hours of sleep.    It is easy to fall asleep on the couch before you have brushed and flossed your teeth.

It is a good thing that the holidays are closely followed by the New Year and the commonly made resolutions to be healthier!

One of the best things you can do for yourself (and your children) is to recover from the sugar craze of the holidays.  It isn’t just good for the teeth; it is good for the whole body!

Cut Back on Sugar Intake

Hopefully, this one will actually be a little easy.  After the New Year, your neighbors aren’t bringing over little tins full of sugary goodness.  You don’t have large celebratory meals with the obligatory desserts.  If you still have Christmas candy lying around, throw it out when you un-decorate.

The easiest way to cut back on your sugar intake is to not have it readily available all the time.

When you reduce your sugar intake, you protect your teeth by restricting the fuel the bacteria need to create decay in the teeth.  Eating and drinking less total sugar always lowers your risk for cavities.

Be Picky about Your Sugar

Some types of sugar are worse for your teeth than others are.  First of all, when we say “sugars”, we mean all carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are the source of fuel for bacteria that cause cavities.  They ingest the sugars and produce enamel-softening acids, allowing them to break through your teeth and cause decay.  The bacteria in the mouth much prefer simple carbohydrates, as they are much simpler to digest.  Simple carbs are refined sugars in sweets like candies, cookies, cakes, etc…. Unfortunately, they also make up many other snacks like chips and crackers.

Complex carbohydrates are more difficult for the bacteria to break down, and therefore, they pose less risk to the teeth.  This means you can choose snacks like raw veggies between meals, and protect your teeth from cavities.

Even among simple sugars, there are some with a higher cavity risk, so we can choose candy wisely to protect our teeth.  Any texture or method of intake that keeps sugar in contact with the teeth for a longer period of time will increase that sugar’s ability to lead to cavities.  For example, sticky and gummy candies tend to get stuck in the pits or grooves of teeth.  Because they stick around (pun intended) for much longer, they provide more fuel for bacteria.  The same goes for hard candy that you hold in your mouth for more than a few seconds.  Sucking on a lollipop or hard candy continually bathes the teeth in sugar, feeding your cavity-causing bacteria.

With high-sugar beverages, the rate at which you drink them is an important factor.  Sipping on a sugary drink between meals leads to a higher risk for cavities than quickly gulping down a full soda with your meal.

Brush Away the Sugar

Just to clarify, it is not the sugar that we are actually brushing away.  When we perform oral hygiene, the goal is to remove dental plaque, the soft white stuff that collects on the teeth. It contains disease-causing bacteria, food debris (sugar), and exfoliated tissue cells from the inside of the mouth.  When plaque stays on the teeth, the bacteria, after eating the sugars, produce an acid.  The acid can slowly dissolve enamel even though enamel is the hardest substance in the human body.  That is the first step in the cavity process.

When we brush and floss consistently, we are removing the dental plaque from our teeth and eliminating its potential for causing cavities. 

Brushing consistently is not quite enough, though.  We have to use the right technique with both brushing and flossing to be effective in our plaque removal.  Ask your dental hygienist for tips on how you can do a better job at home.  Not only does that lower your chance of getting cavities; it also makes your professional teeth cleanings more comfortable!

Fight the Effects of Sugar

We can counteract the effects of sugar on our teeth by strengthening our enamel and preserving a neutral pH in the mouth.  You might want your dentist’s help in knowing just how to do these things, so ask for a specific recommendation the next time you are in to see Dr. Jill, Dr. Cara or Dr. Summer. 

In general, we can strengthen the enamel on our teeth with remineralizing agents.  These materials re-harden enamel that bacteria, sugar and acid have weakened.  The easiest to find is fluoride.  It is present in most over-the-counter toothpastes.  As research in dental materials advances, we are discovering more remineralizing agents, like nanohydroxyapatite, arginine, and amorphous calcium phosphate.  Oral care product manufactures are using these in gels, toothpastes, and even snack chews to help people strengthen their teeth.  Ask your dentist which one could help you!

You can also fight the effects of sugar by preserving a neutral pH in your mouth.  This involves your intake of beverages and your GI health.  If you constantly drink acidic beverages (like sodas, sports drinks, etc…), your mouth will have an acidic pH.  Instead, drink water throughout the day to keep things neutral. 

People who suffer from severe acid reflux or GERD also have an acidic pH in the mouth, due to stomach acid that moves “backward” up the esophagus and into the mouth.  Work with your medical doctor to treat these GI problems and, at the same time, protect your teeth!

More Questions about Sugar and Its Effects on the Teeth?

Call 972-347-1145 today to schedule a consultation with one of our preventive dentists, Dr. Jill, Dr. Cara or Dr. Summer.  We love helping our patients take steps toward a healthy mouth!

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