How Bad Is Sugar for Your Teeth?

Rising obesity rates and related health problems have led to calls for New Zealand to follow other countries' examples and introduce a sugar tax, encouraging people to choose healthy options over snacks and fizzy drinks.

Consuming too much sugar can increase the risk of developing a number of health problems, including heart and kidney disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes, but the first part of the body to be affected is often the teeth.

Does sugar rot your teeth?

Sugar itself doesn't damage your teeth, but it can feed bacteria in plaque on teeth surfaces. These bacteria convert sugar into acids which can erode the enamel surface of teeth, causing them to wear down or forming cavities. This is known as tooth decay (dental caries).

Teeth affected by decay are weakened and can be more prone to damage. A tooth that's too badly decayed may fall out or need an extraction to stop tooth decay from spreading to the surrounding teeth. If tooth decay is spotted early, your dentist may be able to restore the tooth with a white filling or other treatment.

If plaque reaches the gum line, it can cause inflammation of the gums known as gum disease (periodontal disease). This can sometimes be reversed by cutting down on sugar and improving your oral hygiene routine, but it may also need treatment from your dental hygienist.

How much is too much sugar?

Sugar isn't always bad for you. In fact, at safe levels it can be a good source of energy for the body. However, many foods and drinks sold today contain added sugar, which is where most of the sugar in the average diet comes from.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults should not consume more than 50g of sugar per day. The average consumption of sugar by New Zealand adults is 60g per day, the equivalent of 14 teaspoons, and children and teenagers tend to consume even more.

Some of the worst food and drinks for teeth are soft drinks and energy drinks. Even low-sugar or no-sugar soft drinks can still damage your teeth due to their acid content, which can wear down and weaken the enamel over time.

How to look after your teeth

If you're worried about how much sugar you or your family are consuming, make sure you check the nutrition labels on packaging and avoid food and drink that are high in sugar. Drinking water after having something sugary can help to rinse away the sugar and prevent it from sticking to your teeth, and you can try to reduce contact between your teeth and sugary drinks by using a straw.

Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing daily and substituting teeth-friendly snacks and drinks can all help you to maintain good oral hygiene and lower your risk of dental problems. You should also keep up with your scheduled dental visits, so your dentist can check your mouth for signs of decay and offer advice or treatments if needed.

Talk to an Auckland dentist

If it's time for your check-up, or you just want to talk to a dentist, get in touch with our friendly team at St Heliers Dental Centre. Call us on (09) 575 5814 or make an appointment online at a time that suits you.