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It’s that time of the year. You know what I’m talking about. That stretch of days that run from the over-consumption of food period from Thanksgiving through Christmas and then into the New Year. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the extended football season that runs through the first week of January with all the Bowl Games. And of course, the NFL playoffs and then the Super Bowl in February. That’s over two months of food consumption. We all celebrate by entertaining and having parties with all kinds of food and sweet treats. I’ll admit it is a great time of the year: holidays with family and friends and championship football. I can get into the calorie hoarding aspect of it all (I’ll save that for another day) but we’re only going to talk about the sugar consumption right now.
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For more than 50 years, it has been clear that sugar is a major culprit in the development of dental decay (cavities). Restriction of sugar consumption to 10 percent or less of daily food intake could markedly reduce the incidence of tooth decay, which is the most prevalent noncommunicable disease worldwide.
However, reducing sugar intake is not a simple as cutting back on foods that obviously contain sugars, such as candy, soda and baked goods. This is because sugars are added to many foods that may not taste especially sweet. Sugars in the forms of fructose and corn syrup may be found in the ingredient listings for foods such as crackers, pastas, sauces, soups and more.
Becoming more aware of the presence of sugar in foods can make it easier to lower sugar consumption. In addition to decreasing the chances of developing dental decay, reduced sugar intake can lead to additional health benefits, including weight loss and lowered risk of developing chronic diseases. Removing sugar-laden foods from the diet also makes room for the addition of healthier and more nutritious foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Some of you may say that fruit has sugar in it, naturally. There is little evidence that fruit is an important factor in development of decay unless consumed excessively. Dried fruit, on the other hand, may be more cariogenic (decay causing) since the drying process releases free sugars. Fresh fruit appears to have a low ability to promote decay and even citrus fruits have not been found to cause tooth decay but may cause dental erosion, we’ll cover that another time). It’s important for us all to know that the more fresh fruit we consume instead of free sugars is likely to have a positive impact on decreasing dental decay.
Recommendations to Promote Good Oral and General Health
- Eat a healthy diet and follow the recommendations of the USDA.
- Eat sugars in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Limit free sugar intake to a maximum equivalent of 10 teaspoons per day (a can of soda contains over 6 teaspoons!).
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- Free sugars should be limited to a maximum of 4 times a day.
- Don’t snack on sugars between meals.
- Rinse your mouth with water or chew a piece of sugarless gum after eating if unable to brush (Gums, mints, sprays, etc. containing Xylitol; Xylitol actually stops the production of tooth-decay causing acid)
- Ensure optimal fluoride levels in your drinking water.
- Promote adequate fluoride exposure via toothpaste, tablets or dentist recommended application.
- Brush with a fluoride toothpaste at least 2x day.
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- Do not eat for at least one hour before bedtime especially foods containing free sugars because low salivary flow rates during sleep reduce the ability to neutralize acid.
There are some other factors that protect against tooth decay. Consuming cheese following a sugary snack virtually abolishes the increase in acidity. Cheese stimulates saliva and is rich in calcium influencing the balance of recalcifying teeth and protecting against loss of calcium from the teeth. Cow’s milk contains lactose which is less acid producing the other sugars and therefore doesn’t promote decay as readily. In addition, cow’s milk also contains calcium, phosphorus and casein, all of which help stop decay. However, allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle of milk at night has been known to cause Baby Bottle Decay. Human breast milk contains 7% lactose and is lower in calcium and phosphate. It can also, sometimes more readily, initiate decay especially in cases of very high frequency nighttime feeding and prolonged on demand feeding. Plant foods are fibrous and protect teeth by mechanically stimulating saliva. Peanuts and hard cheeses can also act the same way. Teas have been shown to have many health benefits (check out this post). The fluoride in black tea may also protect against decay.
Taking care of your teeth is essential if you want them to last a lifetime! And they should. Many people believe that as we age, it is normal to lose teeth. That is not true! Our teeth can remain with us until the day we depart this Earth if we take care of them. Limiting our intake of starchy, sugary foods and drinks can help us maintain optimal oral health and overall health. Remember, it is important to visit your dentist for preventive care.
*Disclaimer: The information in this post is for informational purposes only. Please seek advice from your own personal medical and/or dental professional.