Moderation in a sugar-crazed society often seems more difficult than it really is. All too frequently advertisers and food manufacturers remind us just how good candy can be, as if we needed reminding! Two hundred years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar a year. In 1970, we ate 123 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year. This is equal to 3 pounds (or 6 cups) of sugar consumed per week! But believe it or not there are sweets that are not as decay-promoting as others. Overall, we can divide candy into two categories: the good (or at least not so bad) and the bad. Knowing which types of candy to steer clear of can help you make better decisions about your candy consumption and reduce your risk of tooth decay. Keep in mind that the number of cavities you get is directly proportional to the frequency and duration that sweets are in your mouth each day, not necessarily the volume of sweets. Feel free to call me at 248-356-8790 or email me (the link is on my website) for more information.
First let’s look at the bad:
- Sour candies have a high acidity level that wreaks havoc on our teeth because the low pH breaks down tooth enamel so quickly and effectively. However, there is a plus side. The action of sucking on a hard drop actually increases saliva production and can help neutralize the low pH levels found in your mouth. I recommend that you try to wait 30 minutes after eating anything highly acidic before you brush your teeth. If you brush immediately after an acidic treat, you run the risk of increasing the rate of enamel erosion since the brushing action can literally polish away the acid-softened enamel surface. If your sweet is not acidic, then you should brush immediately after eating it.
- Oh those wonderful gummy bears! Sticky taffy and chewy caramel bars wrapped in chocolate are also implicated in giving children and adults cavities, toothache and of course a raging sugar high. In a nutshell, anything sticky or chewy sticks like glue to the tiny crevices of your teeth making it nearly impossible for your natural saliva to wash it away. This is also especially true with pre-sweetened breakfast cereals!
- The last sugar culprit on my bad list is what I like to call hidden sugar. This sugar, more than any other, is the most dangerous. It can be found in the very obvious breakfast cereal to soda to yogurt. For example, which do you believe has more sugar, 1 can of baked beans or a can of your favorite energy drink? If you guessed the energy drink has more sugar, you’d be wrong. The canned baked beans have 56 grams of sugar, while the energy drink racks up 54 grams of sugar. Fifty-six grams of sugar is 2 ounces or 4 tablespoons of sugar. If you’re curious about the sugar in your food, pop over to New York Times and view Mark Bittman’s quick video on his take on hidden sugar.
Now for the Good category:
- Dark chocolate, although loaded with sugar, does have some redeeming properties. Among these are its antioxidants that studies have shown can be good for heart health and even possibly reduce blood pressure. Of course any chocolate eaten in large quantities can be bad for you.
- Sugar-free gum can prevent cavities. When you chew it, it naturally increases your saliva production washing away food particles and bad bacteria before they can stick to the surface of your teeth. The extra saliva also neutralizes the acids in the mouth to help prevent tooth decay. Gum with xylitol is especially helpful in preventing cavities, but you need to chew close to 5 grams of xylitol per day to have it decrease decay. With most sugar free gum, that would mean chewing about 20 sticks per day! However if you check on the internet, there is gum available that has close to 1 gram of xylitol per stick that would be excellent for the decay prone person who loves to chew gum (my wife!).
- Sugar-free hard candies and lollipops also stimulate saliva production. These are also available at most bulk food stores. The more saliva, the lower the risk of getting cavities!
Indulging in sweets shouldn’t be a guilt-induced event, just remember to brush afterward. At Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD, PC, we feel providing resources about dental care to our patients allows us to win the battle against cavities one patient at a time. Call us at 248-356-8790 at our Southfield, Michigan location, where we offer a wide variety of exceptional dental services, always with your comfort and safety our top priority!
That’s all for today,
Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD