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Sugars and Tooth Decay

Updated: May 9, 2021

Tooth decay, or ‘dental caries’, occur when acid in the mouth attacks the enamel and dentine of the teeth causing holes or cavities to form. The acid is produced by bacteria that are found within the plaque – a sticky and thin film that continuously forms over the teeth. When sugar is consumed it interacts with the bacteria within the plaque to produce acid. This acid is responsible for tooth decay because it slowly dissolves the enamel creating holes or cavities in the teeth. Tooth decay can lead to abscesses, which may result in the tooth having to be root canal treated or worse removed.

Despite the decreasing levels of tooth decay over the past decades, it still remains one of the most common diseases. According to the Canadian Dental Association untreated dental caries in adults accounts for 35% of the world's population, ranking it number one of disease in prevalence.

Sugars in food and drinks play a major role in the development of dental caries. Bacteria within the plaque use the sugar as energy and release acid as a waste product, which gradually dissolves the enamel in the teeth

In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) commissioned a systematic literature review to answer a series of questions relating to the effects of sugars on dental caries. The systematic review showed consistent evidence of moderate quality supporting a relationship between the amount of sugars consumed and dental caries development. There was also evidence of moderate quality to show that dental caries is lower when free sugars intake is less than 10% of energy intake. Dental caries progresses with age, and the effects of sugars on the teeth are lifelong. Even low levels of caries in childhood are of significance to levels of caries throughout the life-course. Analysis of the data suggests that there may be benefit in limiting sugars to less than 5% of energy intake to minimize the risk of dental caries throughout the life course.

Here are some facts having to do with sugar and teeth, according to the Canadian Dental Association (CDA):

  • Each year, three Canadians out of every four see a dentist or other dental professional.

  • Around 84 percent of Canadians think their oral health is good or even excellent.

  • Worldwide, 60 to 90 percent of school-aged kids and almost 100 percent of adults experience tooth decay.

  • Students miss around 2.26 million school days each year in Canada because of dental-related conditions.

  • About one-third of all surgeries performed during the day for kids between one and five years old is due to tooth decay.

  • Approximately 96 percent of adults have cavities.

  • Around 73 percent of Canadians brush their teeth twice daily.

  • Around 28 percent of Canadians floss a minimum of five times each week.

  • 96 percent of adults have had cavities despite them being extremely preventable

  • Around 21 percent of Canadian adults who have teeth, have or did have moderate to severe gum problems

  • Six percent of Canadian adults don’t have their natural teeth any longer

There are things you can do to lower the dangers of sugar for teeth, starting with how much sugar you’re consuming.

The first step is to be more mindful of your diet. The recommended sugar intake by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada should be no more than about 10 percent of your daily calorie intake.

Each day, instead of the almost 100 grams of sugar most individuals ingest, they should strive for no more than 48 grams — this equates to a little more than one bag of Skittles.

You don’t have to avoid sugar altogether to have proper dental hygiene. If you follow some basic practices, you can still consume sugar and maintain healthy teeth. Here are some easy tips to help you avoid cavities while still enjoying your sugary treats.

  1. Brush your teeth 2-3 times a day to remove plaque that can cause acid in your mouth.

  2. Use a fluoridated toothpaste to help remineralize enamel and prevent further decay.

  3. Floss once a day to remove plaque from between the teeth.

  4. Use a mouth rinse or rinse with water after consuming a sugary snack.

  5. Eat snacks with less sugar. Fruits are the healthiest option for satisfying your sugar craving.

  6. Try chewing sugar-free gum. Sugar-free gum can help to clean out your teeth. It also can assist you in producing saliva, which helps remove the coating of sugar from your teeth.

The most critical component to good oral care is scheduling regular dental cleanings and checkups. The dentist and dental hygienist can identify any signs of tooth decay early enough to help reduce or reverse the damage. To set up your appointment, contact Clinique Dentaire WM Dorval for a dental cleaning and exam. Call us at 514-631-3811 to book an appointment.


NHS Choices, 2014. “Tooth Decay,” URL: <>.

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