Refined carbohydrates and dental cavities

Do carbohydrates – specifically highly refined carbohydrates, cause dental decay?

Well yes and no.

Lollipops - candies
Carbohydrates, especially sugars like sucrose, fructose, and lactose, feed the bacteria that cause cavities.

Here’s the answer – you need the tooth surface – people with full dentures don’t get cavities.

You need the substrate (that which will be consumed) – the sugars.

Finally, you also need bacteria, theoretically you could eat candies with complete abandon (regarding your teeth anyway) if you didn’t have acid producing bacteria in your mouth. Unfortunately (perhaps) that won’t happen, unless you’re in a bacterial isolation tent!

Sadly, dentists also see more cavities in “pop” drinkers as these “soda” are crammed with highly refined carbohydrates.

Incidentally, keep an eye on “health” drinks and those intended to return electrolytes, minerals and salts back in (hydrating sports drinks) as they may be quite acidic and drunk, like sodas, quite frequently.

The drink has to be acidic to allow the minerals to be disolved (and herein lies the problem)Those soda drinkers at risk, are people that drink four or more sodas a day.

Refined carbohydrates (sugar)  do more damage to the teeth if you drink or snack between meals for two reasons, first they stay around the teeth, there’s nothing to wipe/rinse them off, nor equalize or deactivate the acids so formed.

The other reason is that when you eat sweets or candies, or high sugar foods, the acid levels increase and the pH of saliva drops (acid) and takes time to recover.

If you eat sweets or candies between meals, the saliva doesn’t have time to balance toward neutral. If you limit sweet (sugar containing) foods to mealtimes, you’ll do little damage to the teeth, all other things being equal.

Book with glasses on it - link to article
CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT DENTAL DECAY (Caries)

When our own kids were younger, we lat them have any sweets or candies after their meal while they were still at the table. Cruel eh? They didn’t get a single cavity.

If you’re going to eat it anyway, enjoy a sweet treat as part of a meal instead of separately. If you drink a soda without a meal, rinse your mouth with water as soon as you finish the soda, so it doesn’t have time to soak on the teeth.

Cola soda has a pH of 2.8. (Put a coin in a glass of cola overnight and in the morning,  you’ll see metal starting to dissolve – scary eh? Tooth enamel starts to dissolve when pH drops below 5.5.

That means that if you drink multiple sodas per day, they may be causing cavities by directly dissolving the teeth without the need for bacteria to change sugar to acid.

If you limit the sugar you eat, you’re also limiting the sugar that gets to the bacteria. Sugar can be bad for your overall health, not just bad for your mouth. A diet with lots of vegetables and plenty of water is also great for the health of the mouth.

Unfortunately, candies that are “sucked” and therefore allowed to stay in the mouth for potentially long periods, are of course the worst offenders! Ah, my kingdom for a “Werther’s original” – the problem is that we look at the cost when we pick them up but don’t consider the true cost. Have you seen dental fees recently?

Lollipops and caramel candies
Unfortunately, candies that are “sucked” and therefore allowed to stay in the mouth for potentially long periods, are of course the worst offenders!

Incidentally, in 2019 it was reported that Werther’s Original had reached a yearly sales of $91.23 million dollars, so they are unlikely to complain.

As my mother used to say, “Everything in moderation.”

Dr Stephen Bray

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