Good dental hygiene is important for all Australians, regardless of age. It is a result of a number of factors including brushing regularly, using fluoride toothpaste, flossing teeth, good mouth saliva and the foods and beverages consumed as in the whole diet.
Recently, researchers have conducted a number of studies regarding the relationship between eating and drinking to tooth decay. Because of this new information, it is necessary to re-examine some of the traditional beliefs and practices regarding the prevention of tooth decay. These findings confirm that the using fluoride, providing regular daily attention to oral hygiene, reducing the intake of sticky foods between meals, eating a balanced diet and regularly visiting to your dentist all play important roles in good dental health.
The amount of sugar in a particular food is not the only factor in the development of tooth decay. Because fruit juices and soft drinks are liquid and remain in the mouth for a relatively short time, beverages containing sugar, whether added or naturally occurring, do not have as significant an impact on tooth decay as sugar-containing sticky foods. Provided that good dental hygiene practices are maintained, sugary drinks can be enjoyed on occasion.
Tooth decay is caused by the bacteria that are normally present in the mouth. These organisms form a sticky, colourless, soft film on the teeth called “plaque”. Plaque builds up naturally on clean teeth even when no food present. However, the presence of food increases the formation of plaque which will continually build up on teeth unless it is flossed or brushed away.
When you eat foods that contain carbohydrates (starches and sugars), the bacteria use these foods to produce an acid that over time can dissolve enamel (the hard outer layer of the tooth). If this process continues, the decay may penetrate the inner layer of the tooth and can then only be stopped by professional dental treatment. As long as carbohydrates are in contact with the teeth, this acid will continue to form and the decay process will continue. Therefore, a food that sticks to the teeth is much more likely to cause tooth decay than one that remains in the mouth for only a short period such as a soft drink.
Will Drinking Soft Drinks Erode my Teeth?
It is also sometimes asked if soft drinks and juices cause teeth to erode or dissolve. This concern arose from demonstrations depicting a tooth which has eroded after being immersed in a soft drink for several days. Of course, the phosphoric acid in cola drinks could dissolve some of the tooth enamel (just as vinegar or orange juice could given that amount of time) , but under normal circumstances, teeth would not be in constant contact with a beverage.
Saliva also helps to neutralise the acid and reduce its effects on enamel. The minerals in saliva (calcium, phosphorus and fluoride) enhance remineralisation of the enamel. The beverage industry supports the need for further dental research and educational programs to clarify the facts about tooth decay, erosion, and good dental health.
1. Mundorff, SA., Featherston. JBD et al. Cariogenic potential of foods. Caries Research 1990, 24: 344-355.
2. Naylor, NM., Nutrition and dental decay. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 1984, 43: 61.