SUGAR IS THE WORST enemy of all the dental field, including endodontists, as well as anyone trying to maintain a healthy smile. This is because it is the favorite food of harmful bacteria living on our teeth and gums. After consuming sugar, the bacteria excrete acid as a waste product, leading to enamel erosion, tooth decay, and gum disease. Without early enough intervention, it could result in a tooth infection that requires endodontic treatment.
Sugar Has Many Aliases
We always encourage our patients to cut down their sugar intake, but that isn’t always so easy because sugar goes by many names on food labels. We all know that candy, soda, and desserts are full of sugar, but so are less conspicuous items like fruit juice, flavored yogurt, granola bars, and barbecue sauce. Sugar is everywhere. A good way to find it is to check the “added sugars” line in the nutritional facts, but it’s good to be familiar with sugar’s different names.
Finding Sugar on Food Labels
Anything with the word “sugar” is obviously something to watch for. Another giveaway is “syrup.” All types of syrup from corn to rice are sugar-based sweeteners. So are cane juice, agave nectar, honey, fruit juice concentrate, and 100% fruit juice. Some labels will try to trick you with impossible-to-pronounce chemistry words. A trick to decode these is to look for the suffix “-ose,” like in fructose, dextrose, glucose, and others. Anything with that suffix is a type of sugar molecule.
What Is a Healthy Amount of Sugar?
It would be incredible if we could completely avoid sugar, but that can be a difficult goal to achieve with all the places it hides in our food. If a zero-sugar diet is out of reach, try following the American Heart Association’s guidelines, which state that a healthy daily maximum amount of sugar is 25 grams (six teaspoons) for women and 36 grams (nine teaspoons) for men.
Controlling when and how we consume sugar makes a big difference for oral health. Whole fruit is better than fruit juice because the sugar is trapped in water and fiber, making it harder for our bodies to absorb. Whole fruit is also more filling than juice, making it harder for us to overdo it. (That’s the difference between natural and processed sugars.) It’s also better for our teeth to limit sugar consumption to mealtimes instead of snacking on it throughout the day.
Alternative Sweeteners for Oral and Overall Health
If you’re desperate for some sweet treats but want to avoid sugar, there are many different sugar-free sweeteners, including monk fruit, stevia, xylitol, and erythritol. They aren’t perfect substitutes, particularly when baking, but many recipes work well when substituting pure sugar for ingredients like applesauce, bananas, dates, or figs.
Your Dentist is Your Mouth’s Best Ally Against Sugar
Sticking to healthy substitutes for sugar and reducing sugar intake are great for promoting oral health when combined with daily brushing and flossing. The dentist also plays an important role. Make sure to schedule a dental appointment if it’s been longer than six months since your last one!