Brighter Smiles: Sweet Tooth

Tuesday April 23, 2024

Dental caries (cavities, decay) is still very prevalent in today’s society. There are many factors that contribute to dental decay. In addition, there are some people who are more susceptible to decay than others. In a recent article in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), sugar-sweetened beverages, one of the main culprits for dental decay, was discussed.
Dental decay is a multifactorial disease characterized as an infectious process during which carbohydrates are fermented by specific oral bacteria at the tooth surface. This results in acid production and enamel breakdown. It should be noted that the beverages described in this column are not the only things that lead to dental decay. Anything rich in carbohydrates or with high acidity can lead to decay. In addition, the right bacteria, genetics, insufficient home care, and salivary flow are all contributing factors.
With regard to beverages specifically, as described in the JADA article, the main carbohydrate additives to note are sugar, lactose, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltodextrin, and honey. The beverages to watch for containing these are milk – yes milk, flavored milk, 100 percent fruit juice and vegetable juice, soda, juice drinks, sports drinks, flavored water, flavored tea and coffee, energy drinks, smoothies, and nutritional supplements.
People usually consume multiple beverages daily. As I have described in past columns, one of the worst things you can do is to drink these kinds of beverages slowly throughout the day. Constant introduction of carbohydrates over a prolonged period feed bacteria and never allow the saliva to neutralize the oral environment. If you have decreased salivary production, this makes the situation much worse.
Here is a list of recommendations as stated in the JADA article:
1. Consume these types of beverages at meals only
2. Limit these types of beverages to once per day and to 12 ounces
3. Consume these beverages within a 15-minute time frame
4. Using a straw is preferable
5. Replace these sugary beverages with artificially sweetened or unsweetened beverages. ** I would add to that preferably non-carbonated
6. Brush teeth with fluoridated toothpaste 20 minutes after intake
7. Chew sugar free gum immediately after intake
8. Rinse mouth with water immediately after intake
Dental decay is preventable. Following the guidelines above, and practicing good oral hygiene can prevent the most common reasons for decay. It is important to note that most people have plenty of room for improvement with their oral hygiene. Brush your teeth right before your next dental appointment and then ask your hygienist or dentist to assess how well you are doing at plaque removal. You may be surprised at what you’re missing.
Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating snoring, sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at

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