What Exactly Does Sugar Do To Your Teeth?

What Exactly Does Sugar Do To Your Teeth?

Halloween wasn’t too long ago, but I know that my mounds of candy lasted me at least two months when I was growing up. Our parents would allow us one or two treats per day, but of course, we would occasionally sneak more.

However, it was this strictness that helped my siblings and I avoid unnecessary (and expensive) trips to the dentist growing up.

Let’s face it: sugar, in all of its edible forms, is delicious. You love it, I love it, our children love it – even though we know it’s not good for us. But, what exactly does it do to our teeth? Read on, and we’ll break down why sugar is harmful to oral health.

a boy getting a toothache after eating a candy

How does sugar harm teeth? Let us count the ways.

We know sugar is harmful to our teeth, but how exactly does that work? To put it simply, sugar is not the actual culprit.

Our mouths are full of bacteria that are in constant flux. A constant battle rages for the integrity of your teeth. Seriously! It’s a set of processes called demineralization and remineralization.

a woman eating candy from a bowl

Essentially, your mouth is full of bacteria – both good and bad. This is normal, and likely something you don’t think of often. When you consume a sugary treat or highly processed carbohydrates like white bread, cupcakes, or cookies, the harmful bacteria interact with the sugars and create an acid. Known as the demineralization process, the acid dissolves the tooth enamel, causes cavities, and is the true cause of tooth decay.

The remineralization process is spearheaded by your saliva, which is chock full of minerals such as calcium and phosphate that work to repair the damage done by the harmful acid by neutralizing it.

a woman taking a donut

It’s important to remember that your saliva’s ability to transport these helpful minerals can be affected by age, health, and prescription medicines. As well, if you consistently consume very high amounts of sugar this will eventually overpower your saliva’s ability to remineralize effectively.

How to prevent tooth decay:

We now know how exactly sugar affects our oral health, so how can we prevent tooth decay, cavities, and other unpleasant dental issues?

As a starting point, the dental professionals at Kennedy Heights Dental recommend flossing at least once a day and brushing your teeth before going to sleep.

Nighttime brushing is especially important as our salivary glands are not as active when we’re asleep as when we’re awake – decreasing their ability to fight back against demineralization.

Here are a few other dental care tips:

  • Whenever possible, drink through a straw to reduce contact with teeth
  • Limit consumption of soft drinks
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially after consuming sugar
  • Avoid brushing teeth directly after consuming sugary foods or drinks as this will interrupt the remineralization process. Wait for about one hour.
  • Avoid consuming sugary drinks over a long time; continued exposure to the sugar will prolong the production of harmful acids.
a girl choosing a healthier alternative to sugar
Healthy food concept.

Remember: sugar is addictive!

Sugar creates a spike of dopamine in the body, boosting energy (temporarily) and activates the reward centre of our brain. It’s thought to be as addictive as cocaine.

Take care to moderate the consumption of foods made of refined sugar such as:

  • Processed bread (hamburger buns, white bread, pastries)
  • Baked goods
  • Candies, chocolate bars
  • Chips
  • Fried foods

Of course, moderation of these above items is beneficial for more than just oral health. A poor diet that is high in sugar and trans fats can cause high-risk conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity – to name a few.


The dental care experts at Dentistry at Consilium state that the mouth is a “window to your overall health” – and they’re spot on.

If neglected, your mouth can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. This bacteria put your mouth at risk for infection as well as gum disease. Gum disease can be particularly insidious, as it can often contribute to cancer, stroke, and respiratory issues.

When it comes to prevention, be sure to follow our oral care tips above and avoid excess sugar. Doing this will help ensure that you’re only in the dentist’s chair for your regular cleaning instead of an expensive and painful procedure.