What really causes “Tooth Decay?” — Sugar!

Ok, it’s not so much “sugar” to blame as sugar “frequency!” Simply put, how often one exposes their teeth to sugar.

Which of these do you think will cause a cavity the fastest—if done daily?

  1. Drinking 2 liters of a “sugar drink” in 15 minutes (once per day).
  2. Sipping 12 ounces of a “sugar drink” over a 6-hour period of time.

Bacteria in your mouth can only consume 15 minutes worth of sugar at one time—regardless of the amount. The first example will only cause 1 sugar exposure because the bacteria will only be able to eat once in that 15 minute window. In the “sipping” example, far less sugar is consumed BUT it’s over a much longer period of time. This sipping over 6 hours results in 24 sugar exposures!

The most important thing to remember about sugar and cavities is that it doesn’t matter how much, but HOW OFTEN your child is exposed to sugar!

Many parents water down sugary drinks in an attempt to prevent cavities. This is only partially beneficial. The constant sipping exposure over time is extremely harmful for their teeth.

In the same way that sipping is bad from the constant feeding of the bacteria over a long period of time, “sticky sugars” will cause the same problem. Sticky sugars like gummy bears or fruit snacks can stick in between the teeth and in the grooves of your teeth for long periods of time. This increases the bacteria’s opportunity to feed every 15 min.

Sippy cups and bottles are a huge problem too because they increase sugar exposures. Kids will drink them, set them down, drink them again—continuing to drink them over a long period of time.

Children that graze on food all day long tend to have more cavities as well. This constant snacking behavior allows the bacteria in the child’s mouth to frequently be fed. Throughout the day a child who “grazes” has increased his or her sugar exposure and cavities are able to form very quickly. It is important that a child eats a healthy balanced meal—all in one sitting—so there will only be three sugar exposures for the child with three meals in the day. If your child wants dessert, that’s okay, but give it to them at the same sitting as the meal. In between meals it is important to drink a lot of water instead of sugary drinks. Water will help wash away food and acids that are trying to make holes in your teeth.

Every child deserves a healthy smile!

— Dr. Jensen