SUGAR IS THE DENTAL PROFESSION’S WORST ENEMY, as well as everybody who wishes to keep a healthy smile. Why? Because the bad bacteria in our mouths enjoy eating it and subsequently excrete acid as a waste product onto our teeth. Enamel erosion, tooth decay, and gum disease result as a result of this. This is why we advise our patients to limit their sugar intake…but it’s not always as straightforward as it appears.
Sugar Goes by Many Names
If you think about sugar, you generally think of sweets, soda, and pastries, but what about fruit juice, flavored yogurt, granola bars, and barbeque sauce? Many of the foods we consume have considerable levels of added sugar, which isn’t necessarily labeled as sugar in the ingredient list. Checking the “added sugars” line in the nutritional data is usually a good idea, but we also recommend understanding the numerous names for sugar.
How to Find Sugar on Food Labels
Obviously, anything with the term “sugar” in it should be avoided, whether it’s powdered or coarse, brown or coconut sugar, but the word “syrup” is also a red flag. Every syrup is a sugar-based sweetener, from high-fructose corn syrup to rice syrup. Not only that, but sugar can also be found in evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, honey, fruit juice concentrate, and even 100 percent fruit juice.
Then there are the names that are more scientific. Don’t be deceived by the chemistry terms that are long and difficult to pronounce. Look for the suffix “-ose” at the end of the terms to identify various sugar aliases, such as fructose, dextrose, glucose, sucrose, lactose, and maltose. All of these terms refer to different sugar molecule kinds.
Is There a Healthy Amount of Sugar?
We’d all like to be able to avoid sugar completely, but with it hiding in so many of the meals we buy, it’s a challenging objective to reach. If you can’t avoid sugar entirely, we recommend following the American Heart Association’s recommendations. Sugar consumption should be limited to no more than 25 grams (or six teaspoons) per day for women and 36 grams (or six teaspoons) for men (nine teaspoons).
It’s also important to control when and how we consume our sugar. Whole fruit is a healthier option than fruit juice because the sugar in the fruit is trapped with water and fiber, making it harder for our bodies to absorb it. Whole fruit is also more filling than juice, so we’re less likely to overdo it. (If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between natural and processed sugars, that’s it.) Finally, it’s better for our teeth to consume our sugar only during meals.
Sweeteners for a Healthier Mouth and Body
There are many other sugar-free sweeteners to try, such as monk fruit sweetener, stevia, xylitol, and erythritol, if you simply can’t live without some delectable sweet sweets. When baking, using applesauce, mashed bananas, dates, or figs in place of sugar might be hard, but many recipes work well with them.
The Dentist Is Your Teeth’s Best Ally Against Sugar
In addition to a healthy daily brushing and flossing routine, limiting sugar intake and finding healthier substitutes are important strategies to promote oral health, but the dentist can also assist! If it’s been more than six months since your last dental visit, make an appointment right now!