Most people believe that sugar is the direct cause of cavities. However, while sugar is not an innocent bystander, it’s not sugar that eats away at the tooth structure. It’s acid. When you or your child consumes candy, soft drinks, juice, or other high-sugar treats, an acidic environment is created that destroys the tooth enamel. Children are at a higher risk of dental caries due to poor brushing techniques and habits such as thumb sucking. Research shows that 42 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 11 have cavities in their primary teeth. To help maintain the health of your family’s smiles, obtain a better understanding of the destructive connection between sugar and cavities.
What Is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is damage that develops when bacteria in the mouth create acids that eat away at the enamel and eventually the inner tooth structure. If not promptly treated, decay can cause a hole to develop in the tooth, known as a cavity. As the cavity expands, it’s common to experience symptoms such as pain, swelling, and infection. If treatment is still not sought, tooth loss is inevitable.
A tooth has three primary layers, including:
- Enamel – the hard outer layer that protects against tooth decay
- Dentin – the middle layer of bony tissue that forms the bulk of the tooth
- Pulp – the center of the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels
Tooth decay occurs when the enamel or outer layer of a tooth is damaged. If the decay destroys the enamel and affects the dentin and eventually the pulp, the tooth may require root canal therapy. This is often the case with irreversible pulpitis. If the dentist believes the pulp can heal itself if the irritation is removed via a filling, it’s known as reversible pulpitis.
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is often associated with sugar due to the way tooth decay is formed. When you eat or drink a sugary food or beverage, the sugars adhere to your teeth. Plaque, a type of sticky film containing millions of bacteria, is constantly forming on your teeth. When sugar comes in contact with bacteria, the bacteria feeds on the sugar, creating acids. Due to the stickiness of the plaque, the acids remain in contact with your teeth. These acids are responsible for dissolving the enamel and creating cavities in the teeth.
What’s at Risk for Cavities?
Both children and adults are at risk for developing cavities, including young children who do not yet have their permanent teeth. Plaque begins to form on the teeth just 20 minutes after eating. If plaque is not promptly removed via brushing and flossing, the tooth decay process begins. People who consume large amounts of sugar are also at a higher risk of developing cavities, especially if the sugary foods and drinks are sticky. Those who smoke and consume alcohol are also at an increased risk.
It can be difficult to curb sugar cravings when living with a sweet tooth. However, too much sugar in your diet can result in a plethora of health and dental problems. The key to maintaining strong, healthy teeth is by reducing your consumption of sweets.