Getting By

Does anyone recall being told as a kid eating too much sugar would rot your teeth? Or, perhaps you have caught yourself telling a child the same thing? Have you ever wondered if it was true and, if so, why?

As we find out the older we get, many of the things we were told as children end up being true. In this case with sugar and rotting teeth, it is also true. Here is why: Plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria covering our teeth, turns the simple carbohydrates (sugars and starches) from the foods and drinks we consume into acid. The acid breaks down and damages the outer surface of the tooth called enamel.

Another process happening in our mouths include minerals from our saliva (such as calcium and phosphate) plus fluoride from toothpaste and water, which are helping enamel repair itself by replacing minerals lost during the “acid attack”.

When our teeth are exposed to acid frequently and the tooth decay process is prolonged, cavities form and the inner layers of the tooth become sensitive and painful. This is why we are told to limit our consumption of high acid and high sugar foods and drinks, such as soft drinks.

Sucrose (table sugar) is the primary carbohydrate that bacteria prefer. However, any ingredients ending in “-ose” are forms of sugar that should be consumed in limited amounts. Meats and foods high in fiber such as fresh fruits and vegetables, help clean the teeth of food particles and sugars during the chewing process. Even though fresh fruits and vegetables do contain carbohydrates, their high water content acts to dilute the sugars.

Saliva also aids in fighting “acid attack” and helps prevent tooth decay. It washes away sticky, sugary foods and weakens acids. Chewing sugarless gum can increase saliva flow after eating. Drinking water will also aid in keeping the acidic levels at a minimum.

Saliva production decreases while we sleep which is why you should avoid eating and drinking sugary or acidic foods or drinks before going to bed—this allows the acid and sugar to coat your teeth for an extended period of time.

Plaque is removed by proper brushing and flossing. If it is allowed to remain on the teeth for an extended period of time, it adheres tightly which requires professional cleaning to remove it. Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste two times per day and for two minutes each time is recommended. Clean between your teeth everyday with floss or another between-the-teeth cleaner to keep the bacteria from hiding.

Regular dental check-ups and cleanings are also important.

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Additional information is available by contacting Janell at the Chouteau County Extension Office at 622-3036, or in the Chouteau County Courthouse at 1308 Franklin St in Fort Benton.

Montana State University, US Department of Agriculture and Montana Counties Cooperating. MSU Extension is an equal opportunity/affirmative action provider of educational outreach.

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