Breaking news, sugar is not good for your teeth! You all know that already. Let’s talk about why.
So what is it? For starters there are different types. Single molecule sugars, glucose, fructose (fruit), and galactose (milk), are naturally produced. They are known as monosaccharides. When monosaccharides combine, they form more complex forms called disaccharides or polysaccharides like sucrose, lactose, or starch. Having flashbacks to high school biology and chemistry yet?
These sugars are what create carbohydrates. Foods like pasta, potatoes, bread, corn, milk, and processed foods are made up of carbs. So, during the process of digestion these carbs are broken down into their simplest form- sugars. Simple sugars make up complex sugars. Complex sugars make up carbohydrates. Digestion just reverses that process. Digestion can occur in multiple areas of our body- including the mouth!
Another news flash, we have bacteria in our mouth. Not all bacteria is bad, same as not all sugars. After all, sugars provide energy to the cells, and some bacterias help create healthy GI tracts.
In the mouth, when bad bacteria digests their favorite food, sugar, they produce acid. It’s this acid that breaks down tooth structure causing small holes, or CAVITIES (aka decay) in our teeth. The more bacteria we have in our mouth, stemming from bad oral hygiene habits, combined with the more sugars we consume, creates a breeding ground for tooth decay. This process is called demineralization.
There’s hope though… Brushing, flossing, waterpiks, rinses, and a low sugar diet keeps this demineralization process in check. It’s our modern diet of highly processed foods with lots of sugar that has wreaked havoc on our mouths. In fact, teeth can correct this process too in a process called remineralization! This is where those little holes are repaired by the good things in our mouth, calcium and phosphate from our saliva, or sometimes natural or added fluorides.
Early humans didn’t have Waterpiks and electric toothbrushes but they also didn’t have Tastykake and Mountain Dew. So, fossil records show they didn’t have to really worry about this more modern day issue! It's only with the inundation of sugar, sugar, everywhere, that we started to really struggle with this. Even in modern day cultures which don't have the same appetite for sugar you see reduced rates of tooth decay.
So, lets's get back to the basics of what you already know. Keep your teeth clean and healthy and reduce how much sugar you consume, and you can remain in tip top shape!