Demystifying Sugars: When, What and How?

All of us have, not just a sweet tooth but ‘sweet teeth‘ and sweets are a mandate when it comes to festivities and celebrations. With Diwali just passed by and New Year just around the corner, celebrations are going to continue for long and sweets are going to be unavoidable. So here’s a short pick where we can indulge in the goodness as much as we want to, still being cautious, to take care of our teeth while our tongue enjoys the sugary festivities.

There is so much of an uproar about how much of a devil SUGARS are, when it comes to our oral health, however, if thoughtfully taken, its really not so much of a jeopardy. So the questions may arise

HOW MUCH SUGAR NEEDS TO BE TAKEN?

WHAT TYPE OF SUGAR CAN BE TAKEN?

WHEN CAN WE HAVE SUGAR IN ORDER TO AVOID TOOTH DECAY?

First, let’s understand that sugars are actually fermentable carbohydrates, that is to say, that these are actually group of foods that turn into simplest compounds in the mouth. These compounds are easy for the bacteria that are present in the mouth to act upon and hence release acids, thereby starting the process of tooth decay. These fermentable carbohydrates are not only the fancy cake shop goodies (doughnuts, cakes, chocolates and candies) but also sticky fruits like banana and resins. Also the most commonly consumed starchy foods like potatoes, refined flour, yam, rice, pasta, bread and corn are fermentable carbohydrates.

So how do we avoid these foods and keep our teeth healthy? It’s not a healthy option to eliminate an entire food group from our diet, as every food group is of importance in the general functioning of our body, however, when consumed in the correct proportion and form, they won’t be harmful for the teeth as well.

When we consume sugars, they are broken down into simple compounds, on which the bacteria act and release acids, which initiate the process of tooth demineralisation (or dissolution). Upon the release of acids, the pH of our oral cavity drops (usually reaching a minimum value within 5-10 min) and the environment becomes more conducive to the occurrence of dental caries. However, due to the constant presence of saliva in the mouth that bathes our teeth, this drop in the pH is soon recovered and a neutral state is achieved (within 30-40 min, varying between individuals ). If sugars are consumed with meals, that is, within 30 min of having a meal, the pH will normalise and there won’t be damage, however, if sugars are consumed in between meals, that is, after 30 min of having a meal, the pH once again drops and these frequent low pH values aggravate the process of tooth demineralisation.

The cariogenicity of a diet is also influenced by the form in which sugar is consumed. The physical consistency of the food determines its retention time within the mouth and by extension, its interaction with oral bacteria. Therefore, sticky foods are more cariogenic as compared to the liquids that are easily and rapidly cleared away from the mouth.

Our intake pattern also contributes to the cariogenic potential of the diet. This implies that there are certain foods such as cheese and peanuts that can reduce the acid production following an intake of sugars. On the contrary, there are foods like starches which have an additive effect on the cariogenecity of sugars and further degrade the problem. The starchy foods increase the retention of the sugars in the mouth and therefore, leads to a prolonged fall in pH.

Sweets are not as much of bad guys as they are perceived to be. It’s true that high consumption of sweets definitely leads to the process of dental caries, but if they are consumed, keeping the three questions in mind: WHEN, WHAT and HOW and supplemented with good oral hygiene and adequate flouride intake, the cariogenic potential of sugars can be highly reduced.

Enjoy the celebrations this year, with your favourite sweets and indulge in the rich festivities, while still being healthy and caries free.

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