Halloween marks the beginning of the holiday “Sugar Season”. From October 31st until Christmas, sugar treats rev up into high gear so here is some very important information for parents and kids alike. Everyone knows that sugar is not good for your teeth. And we have been told to brush right after eating. Not only is that often not practical, but it does surprisingly little good. So here is the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth, about sugar and teeth and cavities.
But first a quick quiz: What will cause more cavities, eating a big ice cream Sunday, or occasionally snacking on a hand full of M & M candies?
When you eat sugar, the germs in your mouth eat the sugar and turn the sugar into acid, which actually causes the teeth to decay. Some people have more bacteria in their mouth. Some people have stronger teeth. Some people have grown up on fluoride. But all things being equal, more sugar = more decay.
The frequency of eating sugar is much more important than the total amount eaten in so far as decay is concerned. Think about it this way. If you go to an all you can eat buffet, regardless of how much food there is, at some point you will get full and can stop eating. It is the same with the germs in your mouth. If you start to eat sugary foods, the bacteria can take some of that food and turn the sugar into acids, but after a few minutes, they are “full” and cannot eat any more sugar. Then they take about 30 minutes to digest the sugar and make acids, so after the first couple of bites, the germs will be as full as the person who has had a couple of helpings at the buffet. More frequent sugar snacks, even if it is less total sugar, cause more decay.
Myth #1- You have to eat some sugar for energy.
Fact – Not true. The body must convert table sugar (sucrose) into glucose to burn it for energy. This is exactly what happens to all carbohydrates (and fats and proteins) we eat, like breads, pasta, and potatoes. You never need any table sugar. Ever!
Myth #2 – Some people just have soft teeth.
Fact – Just like the three little pigs’ houses, some people’s teeth are definitely stronger than others. However, even the little pig with the straw house was doing fine until the Big Bad Wolf came along. People with naturally harder teeth, like the pig living in the brick house, can take more sugar without crumbling, but people with naturally weaker teeth won’t get decay either if they limit their sugar contacts.
Myth #3 – If you brush right after eating, you can brush away the sugar before it causes decay.
Fact – The germs in the plaque begin to eat the sugar as soon as it enters your mouth. By the time you start to brush, it’s too late.
Myth #4 – Eating natural sugars is better.
Fact – The only difference between brown or “natural” sugar and white processed sugar is the color. Sugar is sugar.
Myth #5 – I avoid sugar deserts and just have a snack once in a while.
Fact – Frequent small sugar contacts cause much more decay than an occasional big binge. The number of times per day that you eat sugar is more significant than the total amount of sugar you eat. (See above). If you eat a pie in one sitting, that’s one sugar contact. If you cut it up into 10 pieces and eat one per hour, it is 10 sugar contacts. Just as fattening, but 10 times as decay-causing.
Myth #6 – If you avoid candy, cakes, and gooey desserts, you won’t get decay.
Fact – Most of the sugar consumed in America, about 150 pounds per person per year, is not in candy and cakes. The problem is that manufacturers put sugar into all sorts of things like ketchup, white bread, spaghetti sauce, mayonnaise, cereals and most processed foods. Read labels to avoid “hidden sugars”.
Myth #7 – Adults outgrow decay, so they can eat more sugar than kids.
Fact – Not true. In our office, the number of cavities per adult patient is much higher than the number of cavities per child patient.
Myth #8 – Fluoride is mainly for kids. It doesn’t help adults.
Fact – Wrong again. Adults can get great benefit from fluorides applied to their teeth on a daily or weekly basis because fluoride hardens the outside of the tooth. If the outside is harder, decay can’t start.
Myth #9 – I can eat all the sugar I want because my teeth are all filled already.
Fact – All fillings eventually leak. Sugar can seep into these cracks more easily, so filled teeth are actually more likely to decay again than unfilled teeth.
My suggestion is to let your kids go trick or treating to parties or areas that you know are safe and can be supervised properly. Then allow them to eat the treats in moderation and what ever they do not eat that day, dispose of so they do not continue to snack on them for days and weeks after.