In the past two weeks we’ve talked about why it’s important to take care of your teeth and mouth (also known as dental health or oral hygiene) and how to properly care for your teeth and mouth. The last topic on this dental health kick is about sugar. I know – I would rather maintain my ignorance about it too, but it’s a big deal.
During my recent dental visit, my dentist mentioned sugar. I was feeling very honest that day. Perhaps I knew he could tell by my teeth if I was lying or not anyway, so I might as well come clean. He informed me, quite nonchalantly, that sugar is nasty for teeth. I knew that, but I didn’t know what about it was doing harm.
It’s All About Balance
Just like most things, our bodies have a pH. If you remember back to chemistry, the pH scale measures hydrogen ion concentration and goes from 0-14 with 7 being neutral (like water). 0-6 is considered acidic and 8-14 being basic or alkaline. You’re wondering what this has to do with anything, right?! Stay with me.
The reason pH matters is our bodies have pH and keeping those levels consistent is important for homeostasis, or proper functioning of the body. In recent years, I’ve seen more and more reference to pH of foods because most of us eat (and drink) heavily acidic foods and beverages. This creates excess acidity in our bodies and can create an environment for pathogens to grow, organs to work less efficiently and so on. The focus here is teeth, but if you’re interested in diet, pH and overall health, here is a great simple introduction to pH and diet from Kris Carr – whole-foods expert – and here is a simple chart showing pH of certain foods.
Sugar, pH and the Mouth
Ok, let’s put this all together. When we eat sugar, it changes the pH of our mouth. What happens is the tons of bacteria that naturally live in the mouth eat the sugar and create a more acidic environment which can lead to demineralization of the teeth. Less strong teeth equals more possibility of tooth breakdown, decay and cavities. Makes sense, right. To take this one step further, it’s not so much the amount of sugar consumed, it’s the frequency. If you casually snack on jelly beans all day, you’ll have a longer term pH effect than if you ate the whole bag in a 2-minute sitting. I’m not advocating eating whole bags of jelly beans (or anything for that matter), but it’s something to think about considering many foods today, mostly processed foods, sneak in crazy amounts of sugar. I’m just as guilty here – sweets are my vice – but I’d rather be an informed sugar addict than an ignorant one!
To take this, again, one step further, if this is what is occurring at the mouth level when consuming sugar, imagine the greater consequences throughout the whole body! It’s not just about your teeth, or the size of your thighs, we’re talking health here.
What do you think about this? New information? Habit changing? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!