The connection between diet and dental decay
Updated: Sep 19
We know that dentists always advise against consuming sugars and sweets because they are bad for the teeth. But do you know what exactly happens in your mouth when you consume sugary foods? Why is sugar bad for the teeth? Basically, if we can put it in layman terms or simple science, this is what happens: when the bad bacteria is fed with sugars, the bacteria will break down the sugars and produce acid, which then starts to dissolve the tooth structure...a process we call demineralisation or early dental decay. When demineralisation continues to progress, eventually a hole is formed in the tooth. That’s how you get cavities in the teeth as a result of the decay process. The acid also creates a wonderful environment for the bacteria to thrive.
Dental decay (or caries) is a kind of bacterial infection. Sweets and chocolates are not the only foods that contribute to dental decay. For dental decay to happen, there must be the presence of tooth, fermentable sugars and decay-causing bacteria (not all bacteria in the mouth causes decay). Sources of fermentable sugars include cookies, cakes, fizzy drinks, candy, bread, crackers, bananas and breakfast cereals. Yes, most of the yummy food to children contain these bad sugars. So how to avoid them completely? What will your child be able to eat?
The process of dental decay is a dynamic one involving demineralisation and remineralisation. There is demineralisation of the tooth upon acid attack and at the same time, attempts of remineralisation by the saliva. Demineralisation is hastened by the presence of sugary food and high bad bacterial load. Conversely, remineralisation is favoured when there is lack of sugars and low bad bacterial load. Saliva in the mouth can help to neutralize the acidity but it takes time. Neutralisation will not happen if there is constant supply of fermentable sugars around. So frequent snacking is not good for the teeth. Here are some dietary advice for preventing dental decay:
Limit the number of meals or snack times to five a day provided that your child brushes his/her teeth twice a day with 1000ppm fluoride concentration toothpaste.
Ensure that each meal or snack time is limited to a maximum of 30 minutes. The longer your child takes to finish his/her food, the bugs will have a longer “mealtime” too, thus encouraging the progression of demineralisation
Do not allow your child to keep food (pouch) in the mouth after meals/snacks.
Opt for foods that have healthier sugars such as fresh fruits instead of dried fruits, peanut butter instead of jam, fresh milk instead of sweetened milk powder formula, xylitol sweets instead of gummy candies. Other preferred alternative snacks include cheese, nuts, vegetables and plain yogurt.
Have sweetened beverages during meal or snack times. When thirsty in between meals, go for water.
Therefore, to strike a balance, work on the frequency and variety of food. The occasional treats are ok but it would be good to have them as a dessert after main meals instead of being used as rewards at random moments. Make sure occasional is occasional…like once a week, not once every two days.