Does sugar cause cavities in your teeth?

Frequent intake of food products containing fermentable carbohydrates like sugar and starch may increase the risk of developing dental caries, especially in people with poor dental hygiene.

Cavities are caused by acid attacking the tooth enamel. The acid is formed when bacteria in the mouth convert the carbohydrates in food into acids. The bacteria occur normally in the mouth and form a thin layer of plaque on the teeth. The plaque builds up on clean teeth – even when there is no food in the mouth. Food containing carbohydrates, including sugar and starch, promote the build-up of plaque. The amount of plaque and its composition affect the caries process. The longer the plaque and carbohydrate-containing food are in the mouth, the greater the risk of cavities in the teeth. Poor dental hygiene increases the risk of developing cavities in the teeth, as does the frequency – rather than the amount – of sugar and starch intake. So sugar may well contribute to forming cavities in the teeth, but does not necessarily do so.

Development of caries is the result of interplay between several factors including genetics, diet, eating frequency and dental hygiene. The amount and composition of saliva, for example, also has a role to play in caries development.

Brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste has been shown to reduce the risk. This is evidenced by the development of children’s dental health. WHO and OECD data shows that in Western countries, the trend of dental caries prevalence in children and adolescents has declined between 50–90% over the past 35–40 years while the average sugar supply has remained constant.

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