How do I eat candy without getting cavities?
Believe it or not, sugar does not cause cavities. The belief that sugar exposure is the direct cause of tooth decay is one of the most widely held myths in dentistry.
The truth is, sugar exposure only causes tooth decay when the mouth has an abundance of cavity causing bacteria that can process that sugar into enamel demineralizing acids and/or sugar is consumed in large amounts frequently throughout the day. Individuals that do not have a high bacterial challenge or a high quantity of cavity causing bacteria on their teeth are at lower risk for sugar consumption causing cavities.
Tips for Preventing Cavities with Sugar
- Space out the sweets. Indulge with meals instead of snacking throughout the day, especially before bed.
- Hydrate wisely. Resist the urge to sip sugary beverages between meals (they’re usually acidic).
- Swish your mouth with plain water after snacking and wait about 30 minutes to brush your teeth.
- Chew some Xylitol gum to reduce cavity-causing bacteria.
- Neutralize acidity in your mouth with an elevated pH mouth rinse.
Details on Avoiding Cavities and Eating Sugary Foods:
1. Understand Your Susceptibility to Cavities (Caries)
Many dentists now have the ability to test for the magnitude of cavity causing bacteria on your teeth using the CariScreen Caries Susceptibility Test. If you test high, eating sugar can mean your teeth are exposed to more acid than if you test low. The dentist can also recommend ways to lower the number of bad bacteria on your teeth. Click here to find a dentist in your area that offers the CariScreen Test!
2. Limit Frequency of Snacking
Some of us have a well-developed sweet tooth but that doesn’t have to spell the end of healthy teeth. When you eat, the pH level in your mouth drops, becoming more acidic. Acid, as you might imagine, is not good for your tooth enamel. The bacteria associated with cavity formation love and thrive in acidic conditions. The acid also can dissolve minerals out the tooth enamel, leaving weak spots for the bacteria to attack.
Every time we eat our teeth are exposed to acids and our bodies are naturally wired to defend against this acid attack. But a healthy mouth is only designed to handle 4-5 acid challenges a day before it is overwhelmed and teeth begin to demineralize. If you eat small, frequent meals or snack all day long, your saliva cannot reach a natural balance on its own. Acid-loving bacteria flourish, healthy bacteria die off, and minerals dissolve out of the enamel without the opportunity to redeposit in the enamel. Constant eating threatens enamel health. If you are going to eat sugar, limit it to a desert at a regular mealtime rather than snacks between meals.
3. Picking the Right Sweets
Some sugary snacks are worse than others. Candies that slowly dissolve, are sticky, or also contain added acids as part of their recipe should be avoided. Instead choose sugary snacks that can be enjoyed without the added acids or long term exposure in the mouth. For example, a chocolate may be a better choice than a chewy fruity candy that also contains citric acid. While sugar does nothing to improve oral health, xylitol, a natural non-nutritive sweetener, has been shown to aid in the fight against cavities. It does so partially because unhealthy bacteria eat the xylitol but cannot use it for energy. Thus, the bacteria eat themselves into starvation. Xylitol gum can be an ally in your fight against tooth decay.
4. Establish Healthy Post-Sugar Habits
Most of all, you need to establish a healthy post-sugar and post-eating routine if you want to maintain a cavity-free smile. Make sure your teeth are clean after eating, but don’t scrub at tooth enamel that’s currently weakened by acid attacks. Wait to brush until after the minerals have had a chance to redeposit on your enamel—at least 30 minutes. Swish with plain water after eating to help remove food particles and to counteract plaque acids without damaging your enamel. A pH correcting oral rinse or oral spray may help even more if you need additional protection from tooth decay. CariFree products are specifically designed to boost the pH in the mouth after an acid attack and fight bad bacteria with xylitol.
5. Sleep and Sweets Don’t Mix
If you’re already committed to following tip #2, this may seem redundant. It’s worth considering separately, however, that late night eating before bed poses its own threat to tooth enamel. Because saliva plays such an important role in protecting your teeth from harm, eating at a time when your mouth is usually dry elevates the risk of damage. When we sleep, we tend to have dryer conditions in our mouth than while awake. Snorers and others who breathe through their mouths while sleeping are particularly likely to suffer from dry mouth at night. If you eat right before bed, even if it’s a regular meal, you increase the risk that your saliva won’t adequately rebalance your oral environment and cavity causing bacteria will cause you problems. Make sure you schedule your food early enough to give your oral environment time to settle, certainly no less than 30 minutes.
BREAKING IT DOWN:
Eating sugar and maintaining a healthy bright smile can be done easily if you watch your pH and avoid creating an ongoing acidic oral environment. Your dentist and hygienist are likely enjoying just as many sweets this holiday season, but they know how to manage their oral environment and avoid acid erosion and cavities. Now you do to!