Sugar doesn’t actually do any damage to your teeth. The damage is done by a bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which is a natural resident of our mouth, and produces acid.
Streptococcus mutans will feed off anything it can find in our mouth – generally food which is in-between your teeth. Fortunately there isn’t usually much available, because food spends very little time in the mouth, which means that Streptococcus mutans rarely has much time to break down and metabolize it before it passes into our digestive system.
The lack of ready-to-eat food in the mouth keeps the population of Streptococcus mutans low, and so the acid it produces has little to no impact on mouth health – it is something we have evolved to cope with in low amounts. This changes when sugar is consumed, especially sugar drinks.
Sugar is instant energy, both for us and these bacteria. This means there is no need to break it down before it can be used as energy – unlike almost all other foods. As soon as sugar comes into contact with Streptococcus mutans it can be absorbed by the cells and metabolized, which means it produces acid. This acid dissolves the tooth enamel which damages our teeth. More sugar means Streptococcus mutans produces more acid, and reproduce rapidly, which means there are more Streptococcus mutans to produce more acid etc.
So, sugar directly doesn’t actually damage your teeth, its the bacteria in your mouth which causes the damage when they are fed too much sugar!
Sugary drinks are much worse than foods because the sugar is in liquid form, which makes it much more accessible and easier to absorb than sugar in foods.
The obvious thing to do to stop this, is stop drinking/ eating sugary foods and make sure you brush your teeth – this controls the growth and acid production potential of Streptococcus mutans. But, as we now know that it is a bacteria which causes tooth decay and not directly sugar, anything which causes a population/ metabolism boom of these bacteria can cause tooth decay – not just sugar. This can be caused by a number of things, including a naturally occurring imbalance of bacteria in your mouth.
Aside from brushing your teeth, drinking green tea and consuming turmeric have also been shown inhibit the growth of these bacteria, which can help protect against tooth decay. Just another benefit of green tea and turmeric!
Image courtesy of jayangel