‘But WHYYYYY’, your child asks you for the 99th time today. You’ve just explained (again) to them that the sugary treats they so desire aren’t good for their oral health. For some reason, though, they aren’t buying it when you parrot the fear-mongering tale that your parents told you about how sweets will “make your teeth rot and fall out of your head.”
Today’s children know better than to accept our half- hearted answers at face value. With the internet at our fingertips, we can help satisfy that curiosity once and for all! Therefore, let us help you dig a little deeper into the origins of cavities. A little more knowledge should go a long way to help you explain to your questioning kids why, exactly, they should limit the consumption of sweets to mealtimes over snack times; why the lollipops they receive at the doctor’s office are likely sugar-free; and why water is really the very best hydrator between meals.
Here are the easy-to-digest facts about sugar and its role in cavity creation:
- Germs (also called bacteria) exist in all of our mouths.
- One tooth can be home to 500 million bacteria!
- We can’t get rid of all germs, but we can control them with regular brushing and flossing.
- Most of these germs live in what is called plaque, which isn’t necessarily harmful when looked at independently.
- Plaque is the stubborn, sticky stuff that likes to live on teeth (that is what we are trying to get rid of when we brush + floss, it is also what your dentist might sometimes scrape away at).
- Enamel is what we call the hard outer layer of the tooth.
- Enamel is known as the “tooth “protector”, as it covers up the nerves that live deep inside the tooth.
- During sugar consumption (via eating it and/or drinking it), a mild form of acid is created when these sugars mix with the existing bacteria in the mouth.
- This acid is what burns through the protective tooth enamel and causes cavities (holes in our teeth).
- Cavities are holes that burrow through the enamel – these holes leave us open to tooth sensitivity.
- We should always aim to avoid cavities, but if they arise they should be treated by your dentist right away.
- Sugar is not limited to the refined (white) sugar that you bake with.
- Sugar also occurs naturally in many healthy foods (such as fruits and vegetables, called fructose), and even milk (called lactose).
- According to the Canadian Dental Association, other sugars to look out for include “corn sweeteners; corn syrup; dextrose; fructose; glucose; honey; maple syrup; molasses and sucrose”
- Time is of the essence! The longer something sweet stays in our mouths, the more time the newly created acid has to do damage.
Now that we understand how painful cavities happen (any sugar we put into our mouths + existing mouth germs = enamel-burrowing acid), we offer some tips on how to avoid them:
- Hard candy that dissolves slowly, like lollipops and Jaw Breakers.
- Gum (not the sugar- free variety) that is chewed and chewed…and chewed.
- Soft, sticky (and sneaky) candy that gets stuck in teeth. Think: toffee, caramels, jujubes, etc.
- Soft, sticky (and sneaky) foods also get stuck in teeth. Dried fruit in all its varieties include high concentrations of fructose that stick to teeth just the same as candy, so think twice the next time you offer a box of raisins to a hungry child. Grapes are a much better alternative thanks to the high water content.
2. Only offer water as a drink between meals. When we eat, there is significantly more of saliva in the mouth that helps help wash away unwanted sugars more quickly.
- Other major Cavity Culprits are sugary drinks that are consumed between meals and overnight, as they allow sugar to linger in the mouth (these include any kind of juice, pop, and milk).
- For this very reason, a bottle of milk or juice offered to an infant overnight is a big no-no, as the sugar pools in the mouth and covers teeth for a prolonged period of time.
- Offer sweet drink with meals (if you must), and only offer water between meals.
3. Brush and floss regularly, especially after consuming any Cavity Culprits.