Are Your Dietary Habits Giving You Cavities?

Dietary Habits Giving You Cavities

You probably already know that too much refined sugar isn’t too great for your teeth. We all learn that early on, sometimes even in preschool. If you’re a ‘90s kid, you might remember The Adventures of Timmy the Tooth, the slightly creepy puppet show that taught us about cavities.

Dietary Habits Giving You Cavities
Image by Traci Lawson

But sugary foods actually aren’t the only dietary factors that contribute to your rate of tooth decay. Starches can also make similar contributions to dental plaque buildup. Plus, you probably consume a lot more sugar than you think you do. If you’ve had numerous cavities in recent years, despite good oral hygiene habits, it’s possible that your dietary habits are part of the problem.

You Probably Consume More Sugar Than You Think

If you’re not trying to lose or gain weight, and you haven’t done so in the past, you’ve probably gone your entire life without paying much attention to exactly what you’re putting in your body. Even if you’re not into ice cream and cake, and you think your sugar intake is relatively low, it may very well still be above the World Health Organization’s daily intake recommendations for adults.

Did you know that just one can of soda puts you above the WHO’s recommended sugar intake? And soda isn’t the only beverage that’s a sugar bomb. An eight ounce glass of orange juice has seven teaspoons of sugar — that’s a teaspoon more than the WHO recommends that a normal weight adult should consume in the course of an entire day. And let’s be real: when you pour yourself a glass of orange juice, it’s almost certainly larger than eight ounces.

It’s no secret that soda is sugary, but the way juice is marketed can fool consumers into overestimating how healthy it actually is, causing parents to take their kids to a children dentists in the city. The same is true of most flavored yogurts. Sure, it’s sold as a healthy option, but an average serving of Greek yogurt contains your entire daily intake of 6 grams of sugar.

The problem isn’t the fact that you eat sugar at all. We all know not to eat cookies and candy every day. The problem is that, due to the nature of the food industry and sugar industry, unhealthy quantities of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup are lurking in places where you wouldn’t really expect them.

One solution, of course, is to make a habit of looking at the nutrition facts on food labels. You’d be surprised what is or isn’t high in sugar. Cutting your sugar intake down to size can go a long way toward preventing dental caries from forming.

Starchy Foods Also Contribute to Dental Caries

Sugary foods aren’t the only things that can raise your risk of developing dental caries. You may or may not remember from high school biology that sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Other carbohydrates, like those in starchy foods, can also contribute to cavity formation.

Together, sucrose (table sugar) and starches are the most common dietary carbohydrates in modern Western diets. Although the causal relationship between starch consumption and dental caries isn’t as clear-cut or well understood as that between sucrose and caries, it does exist.

The digestion of starches actually begins in the mouth. Saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, specifically α-amylase, which acts as a catalyst during the hydrolysis of starch into sugars. Starches are polymeric carbohydrates, complex biomacromolecules consisting of units of glucose joined by glycosidic bonds. Thanks to α-amylase, hydrolysis occurs that breaks these molecules down into their constituent sugars. Studies dating back as far as the ‘70s and ‘80s have demonstrated that the drop in plaque pH after starch ingestion, which increases the plaque’s cariogenicity, corresponds clearly with the hydrolysis of starches by salivary α-amylase.

The risk of caries can increase when oral bacteria are exposed to glucose, maltose, and other sugars derived from starches. Starches in your mouth become sticky, and are likely to adhere to the surfaces of your teeth. Food particles with more starch in them have been found to adhere more readily than food particles with little starch. One 1997 study found that potato chips, in particular, are highly cariogenic by this mechanism.

Again, the relationship between starches and caries is less straightforward than that between sugar and caries. It involves a complex interplay of the frequency of starch consumption, the effects of different food preparation method that affect the plaque pH lowering potential, the bioavailability of starches, and the interactions between starch and sugar.

A diet high in carbohydrates may increase your risk of dental caries. Since a diet high in simple carbohydrates can have other adverse health effects, notably on your metabolism, reducing your carbohydrate intake is a good idea in general.

A Healthy Diet for Healthy Teeth

Both refined sugars like sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, and starchy foods like potato chips and crackers, can increase your likelihood of developing dental caries. Reducing your intake of both sugars and starches can help you prevent cavities and keep your teeth healthy. It also has other benefits for your cardiovascular and metabolic health, making it a good idea overall.