Why too much sugar can cause dental decay

15 December 2022

Tooth decay is one of the most common dental problems in the UK. Some statistics staggeringly indicate that around 84% of the UK’s population have tooth decay in at least one tooth. With such worrying figures, we have decided to raise awareness of what tooth decay is, if you are more likely to be susceptible to this, how to assess if you have this, typical food and drinks that can lead to tooth decay, as well as the implications and prevention. Let’s jump in.

What is tooth decay

In short, tooth decay can be defined as permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth. This can develop into tiny openings or holes, otherwise known as cavities.

The cause of tooth decay stems from bacteria in the mouth becoming infected from:

  • Consuming an excessive amount of sugary foods or drinks which wears away your enamel
  • Poor oral hygiene – infrequent brushing or flossing
  • A lack of fluoride

What this does to your mouth is create a build-up of plaque, or tartar if you smoke.

However, there are certain age groups, demographics and reasons that you may be more susceptible to tooth decay than others. These include:

  • Children – particularly infants who drink bottles of milk and formula, from a sippy cup, juice or other sugary drinks
  • Teenagers – pit and fissure decay is most common during this age range
  • Older adults – as your gums recede you can develop root decay
  • Having a family history of cavities
  • If you have worn fillings or dental implants
  • Suffering from Heartburn – strong stomach acid erodes the enamel
  • Suffering from an eating disorder as this can also result in stomach acid entering the mouth
  • Having had previous radiation therapy to treat head or neck cancer
  • A dry mouth or health condition which permeates this

The location of tooth decay also plays a factor. You are a lot more likely to experience tooth decay in your back teeth, particularly the back molars and premolars.

Anyone can develop tooth decay however, including infants. Untreated, tooth decay can lead to severe toothache, infection and potentially loss of teeth as well as spreading to a wider area of your teeth.

How to assess if you have tooth decay

Depending on how advanced the tooth decay is, you may experience different symptoms. This is because as your teeth decay, it may feel as if some symptoms have subsided. For example in the beginning you may experience:

  • Some toothache
  • Spontaneous pain or pain without any apparent cause
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth, redness around or inside the mouth
  • A dry mouth

However as tooth decay spreads or successfully infiltrates the teeth, and roots of the teeth these can disappear or be replaced by other symptoms. These include:

  • A loss of pain or toothache
  • Small but visible holes, pits or cavities
  • Pain when biting down
  • Brown, black or white staining on any surface
  • Tooth abscess
  • Swelling or pus around a tooth
  • Damaged or broken teeth
  • Chewing problems
  • Positioning shifts of teeth after tooth loss
  • Weight loss or nutrition problems

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is imperative that you book a dentist appointment as soon as you can. The more time you allow tooth decay to develop, the further it can spread and damage your teeth.

Typical food and drinks that cause tooth decay

As we discuss in many other articles, there are certain foods and drinks that are more likely to cause tooth decay than others. These include:

  • Chocolate and sweets
  • Foods and drinks containing high amounts of sugar – hot or cold
  • Alcohol and foods containing alcohol
  • Sticky foods or fruits such as dates
  • Foods with a high starch content

We would always recommend eating a healthy diet of crunchy foods such as fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates and foods belonging to protein groups such as meat and fish. However how these foods are prepared can also have an impact, as can smoking.

Implications of tooth decay

As some of the symptoms allude to, tooth decay can have long ranging and devastating consequences for not just your teeth, but your smile, appearance and state of wellbeing. How damaging tooth decay can be depends largely on the stage of when it is detected.

For instance during the earlier stages you may be able to remove the infection using root canal treatment. This prevents the infected bacteria from travelling from the tooth roots into your gums, which left unchecked can also cause Gingivitis or Gum disease.

However if the tooth decay has spread substantially, this can infect other teeth and the affected teeth may need to be extracted. Without dental fillings or implants, this can affect the outward appearance of your teeth as well as cause them to shift which in turn causes pain and discomfort. If gum disease does develop, this can result in more teeth needing to be extracted.

How to prevent tooth decay

The best way to combat tooth decay is of course, to prevent it as much as possible. This does involve a commitment to yourself not just in your dental hygiene, but your nutrition and lifestyle too. The best ways to prevent tooth decay involve:

  • Regularly visiting your dentist. They can monitor for the signs of tooth decay and if necessary can perform X-Rays to detect cavities before the decay becomes visible
  • Have a balanced, nutritious diet
  • Drinking water after consuming sugary or sticky foods and drinks
  • Maintaining a good oral hygiene routine
  • Visiting your dentist in the event of any accidents or trauma to the teeth – such as in sports or physical injuries
  • Maintaining and regularly cleaning any dental implants that you may have
  • Stop smoking or visit a smoking cessation service
  • Use a toothpaste with the recommended level of fluoride.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, please do not hesitate to reach out to us today before the symptoms have any more time to develop.