Putting sugar bugs on a diet

By From page A13 | November 13, 2011

Sugar is the fuel that runs our body, we can’t live without it. However, we probably are having more than what we should each day.

In children, more than 30 percent of the daily energy intake has been reported to come from energy-dense, low-nutrient snacks. It is hard to imagine, but 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Sugar feeds the bacteria in our mouths that produce acid and cause cavities. This doesn’t mean you should stop eating sugar; just choose your sugars wisely, and take necessary hygiene measures.

The most harmful sugar to teeth is sucrose — the common table sugar, and one frequently added to our diet. Sucrose is consumed rapidly by cavity-causing bacteria, and it helps these sugar bugs stick to teeth.

Other sugars — such as fructose, lactose and maltose — are naturally found in foods that are beneficial to overall health, and less harmful to teeth.

Fructose is the main sugar found in fruit. Fresh fruits are fibrous and chewed longer, which helps our mouth release more saliva. Saliva washes away food, neutralizes acid in the mouth and repairs damaged teeth. When concentrated in high-fructose corn syrup and used as a sweetener, fructose becomes more harmful.

Lactose is the naturally occurring milk sugar; it is found in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Studies over the years have shown varied results regarding the potential of milk sugar to cause cavities.

The consensus is that if remains unsweetened and if consumed appropriately, milk contributes to fewer cavities and even to no cavities, according to some studies. This could be due to many factors, including the fact that dairy products contain calcium and phosphates that repair teeth.

Maltose is a sugar resulting from the breakdown of starchy food such as bread and rice in the mouth. Early laboratory studies have shown maltose to reduce the immediate damaging effect of sucrose. However, high-starch foods can still be damaging to teeth if they remain in the mouth for a long period.

If you have a sweet tooth, it is better to eat sugary treats as a dessert after a meal and not as a snack between meals. If you can’t brush your teeth afterwards, you can chew on sugar-free gums to promote salivary flow in your mouth. Gums containing xylitol, especially, can inhibit the growth of sugar bugs.

You can also rinse with water, but this is less effective than brushing or chewing gum in protecting your teeth against acid attacks.

— Samer S. Alassaad, D.D.S., is in private dental practice in Davis. Reach him at [email protected]

Samer Alassaad

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