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What Causes Cavities on Teeth
©Sebastian Kaulitzki/

If you’re like most people, you may believe that sugar causes cavities.  After all, candy is bad for our teeth, right?

Sugar doesn’t cause cavities.  In fact, this has been known for over 50 years!

In 1954, a man by the name of Frank Orland wanted to see if sugar caused cavities.  He conducted a pioneering research study, in which he raised 22 rats in a sterile environment.  From birth ’til death, these rats never had any contact with any germs.  He fed these rats lots of sugar throughout their entire life.

Guess how many of these rats that ate sugar every day ended up getting cavities?


None of the rats that were raised “germ-free” got any cavities even while they were eating all of the sugary foods that they wanted.  In contrast, 38 of the 39 rats that ate the same foods but were not raised “germ-free” ended up getting cavities.

Part of his conclusion states, “Findings indicated that twenty-two rats reared under germfree conditions remained entirely free of even microscopically demonstrable dental caries. Of thirty-nine conventional control rats, possessing the usual mixed microbial populations, thirty-eight developed various lesions when maintained on the same kind of dietary regime as the germfree animals. It is deduced from this evidence that dental caries in the rat is not possible in the absence of microorganisms.”

If you only looked at Dr. Orland’s study, you may be tempted to say that it must be bacteria, and not sugar, that causes cavities.

More recently, other studies have shown that it’s possible for rats with bacteria to not have any cavities if they are not fed sugar or fermentable carbohydrates.

These studies lead us to believe that bacteria and sugar must be present in order to get cavities.  But even these two elements don’t account for the whole picture.

For example, my wife never had a cavity in the first 25 years of her life.  Like most normal people, she ate sugar and had bacteria in her mouth.

So, what really causes cavities?  There are actually four components that, when present together, cause cavities:

What Causes Cavities?

In order to get cavities, you need to have four main ingredients:

1 – Sugar
2 – Bacteria
3 – A Susceptible Tooth
4 – Time

You can take a look at this relationship in the diagram below.  If you’re interested, you can then read about how you can use this information to prevent cavities.

4 Causes of Cavities & Tooth Decay


1 – Sugar

For simplicity’s sake, I labeled this category as sugar.  In reality, it could be called refined carbohydrates because anything that can be broken down into sugar inside of your mouth is able to feed the bacteria that contribute to causing cavities.

For example, potato chips are made of a simple starch that can be broken down into sugar by enzymes that are found in your saliva.  How often you eat sugar is more important than how much sugar you eat in one sitting.

To learn more, read What Happens In Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink, What Fermentable Carbohydrates Are & How They Hurt Your Teeth, and 50 Names for Sugar that Food Makers Use to Trick You.

2 – Bacteria

Bacteria live inside all of our mouths (unless you’re one of the rats in Dr. Orland’s study!)  It’s really fascinating to me that there are millions of little creatures living inside of everyone’s mouth — this is what first got me interested in dentistry and was the subject of my first article here at Oral Answers, What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque.

While you can’t completely rid your mouth of all the bacteria, you can destroy the homes they build on your teeth every time you brush and floss.  By regularly brushing and flossing, you can help win the fight against the bacteria in your mouth.

3 – A Susceptible Tooth

Many people who have had their share of cavities say that they have soft enamel or that  bad teeth run in their family.  While there’s no such thing as soft enamel, people can have enamel that may not have been formed correctly.  Also, bad teeth aren’t genetic, but some people’s teeth do have deeper pits and grooves than others.

These pits and grooves can be so deep that even a bristle on a toothbrush can’t reach down to clean them out.  In these cases, these people will almost always get cavities unless they have had sealants placed on these teeth when they were kids.

There are many other factors that influence how susceptible a tooth is to getting cavities.  I will only go over a few of the more common ones.

The first is the quality and amount of the dental enamel.  Pinkham’s Pediatric Dentistry text states that enamel hypoplasia (when not enough enamel forms), even at levels that are undetectable,  increases susceptibility to tooth decay.

Saliva also plays an important role in how susceptible a tooth is to decay.  The more saliva you have, the better.  To learn more about the role that saliva plays in your oral health, read How Saliva Protects Your Teeth and Six Main Causes of Dry Mouth/Xerostomia.

The last factor I will discuss that makes your tooth more susceptible to cavities is the wearing away of tooth structure.  This commonly occurs through the process of acid erosion, which can occur by drinking these nine teeth-dissolving drinks, however there are four ways that you can wear away your teeth.

4 – Time

Darius Rucker sang the following words Hootie & The Blowfish’s hit Time back in the 90’s

Time, Why you punish me? Like a wave crashing into the shore, you wash away my dreams.

Time can in fact wash away your dreams of having healthy teeth if you give the bacteria enough time on your teeth.  In fact, you can have all three elements above and not get cavities if you don’t give the bacteria time to eat away at your tooth.

Plaque eats sugar, which produces acid that slowly eats away at your susceptible teeth.  The key is to not give the bacteria enough time on your teeth.  You can do this by brushing and flossing regularly.

To learn more, read the article Try to Keep Your Teeth Below Freezing.


Cavities don’t just happen spontaneously.  You need four things to get cavities: sugar, bacteria, susceptible teeth, and time.

You can’t really control the bacteria unless you live in a sterile environment.  You also can’t control the genes that sculpted your teeth into their exact formation that might make them hard to clean. You can control how much sugar you eat, your oral hygiene, and how well you treat your teeth (don’t treat your teeth like tools!)

Do you have any questions, stories, comments, or concerns about what really causes cavities?  I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Five Ways to Get Better Teeth
©Syda Productions/

Many people think they’re taking great care of their teeth. They brush and floss, but they still end up having problems.

I wrote this post with those people in mind: the ones that want to have better, healthier teeth, but don’t know quite where to start. Even if you know that you’ll end up needing crowns or veneers on your teeth, it’s important to have excellent oral hygiene so that your future dental work will last a long time.

Here’s five simple things you can do to get better teeth.

How to Get Better Teeth: 5 Things You Can Do Today

How to Get Better Teeth1 – Floss

Many people don’t want to floss because they think it’s too hard. Before I talk any more about flossing, go ahead and read the following quote from Kevin McCallister in Home Alone:

I took a shower washing every body part with actual soap; including all my major crevices; including inbetween my toes and in my belly button, which I never did before but sort of enjoyed.

Neglecting to floss is like simply taking a shower without cleaning all of your major crevices!

Learn more about the right way to floss by reading these 10 flossing mistakes.

2 – Brush for At Least Two Minutes

How long do you spend brushing your teeth every day? A lot of people only brush for 30 seconds or so.  By brushing for two minutes, you will allow the fluoride in your toothpaste to spend more time providing your teeth with its many benefits.

When you brush, do you remember to brush all sides of your teeth?

3 – Only Eat Sugar with Your Meals

Every time you eat, the pH in your mouth drops to a level where it can hurt your teeth. You can see a graph of this process in the article What Happens in Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink.

The more times you eat in a day, the more times your teeth get hurt.  By eating your sugary snacks with a meal rather than on their own, you will be reducing the number of times that your teeth come under attack.

You can try substituting fruit or vegetables for a sugary snack or simply have a great-tasting chewing gum.

4 – Don’t Sweeten Your Coffee & Tea With Sugar

Try sweetening your drinks with xylitol or an artificial sweetener.  The bacteria in your mouth would love to get their hands on some sugar so they can hurt your teeth.  If you starve them, you’ll have better teeth!

Learn more about what xylitol is and how it protects your teeth.

5 – Don’t Drink Soda Pop In Between Meals

The main theme of the last three items on this list is that sugar is an enemy to your teeth.  Soda pop combines sugar and acid to wreak havoc on your teeth.

If you’re thirsty between meals, water and milk are good choices, and I’m not the only one saying that: the textbook Dental Caries by Fejerskov agrees with me.  It says, “Water and milk are safe drinks between meals.”

Ideally, you would cut soda pop out of your diet, but who wants to do that?!  If you absolutely must have your sugary, carbonated fix, check out these guidelines on how to drink soda pop and keep your teeth happy.


Hopefully you can try at least one of these five suggestions so that you can be on your way to having better teeth.

Do you have any questions or comments about how to get great teeth?  I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Weapons of Plaque Destruction

About five years ago, I was sitting in the first lecture of an Introduction to Dentistry class.  The professor, a local dentist, was talking about how plaque forms on our teeth and how it causes our teeth to decay.  Something clicked inside of me that day, and that lecture helped solidify my desire to become a dentist.

Weapons of Plaque DestructionI summarized that lecture in my first post ever on Oral Answers back in January 2010 entitled What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque. If you haven’t read it and you’re curious about how tooth decay begins, you might want to take a look at it.

Because plaque can eventually cause you to lose your teeth, it is important to remove it and try to minimize its formation.  Here are 12 easy ways you can do that: The Top 12 Weapons of Plaque Destruction.

Top 12 Weapons of Plaque Destruction

Weapon #1 – Brushing Your Teeth

Brushing your teeth not only removes plaque, but some toothpastes also contain antimicrobials, such as Triclosan in Colgate Total. Toothpaste also contains abrasives which can help mechanically remove plaque from your teeth.

To find out what else is in toothpaste, read The 10 Main Ingredients In Your Toothpaste.

Weapon #2 – Flossing

Flossing helps remove plaque that is stuck between your teeth.  Cavities between teeth are so common that the two fillings required by the most popular dental board exam both have to include a cavity that is between two teeth.

Think you could use some tips on flossing?  Start by reviewing these 10 common flossing mistakes.

Weapon #3 – Fluoride

Fluoride has three different ways that it makes our teeth stronger and more resistant to the bad effects of plaque.  Fluoride is the only active ingredient in most toothpastes sold in the United States.  Fluoride is also added to many municipal water systems.  There is a strong, ongoing debate about whether or not it’s okay to add fluoride to everyone’s water.

Weapon #4 – Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that somehow helps fight plaque.  Xylitol is found in many chewing gums and you can also buy it in solid form from many health food stores or from Amazon.  Then you can use it to sweeten drinks like tea and coffee.

To learn more about this valuable plaque-fighting sugar alcohol read the article, Xylitol: What It Is and How It Protects Your Teeth.

Weapon #5 – Anti-Plaque Mouthwash

Many plaque-fighting mouthwashes contain ingredients such as cetylpyridinum chloride (CPC) which can kill the bacteria responsible for causing cavities.

Weapon #6 – Water

Drinking water or rinsing your mouth out with water after eating sugary foods can help wash away food that sticks around in your mouth. Since the bacteria live off the food you eat, you will be starving them by rinsing out your mouth.

Weapon #7 – Saliva

Saliva helps protect the teeth in many ways.  You can read about the six main ways that your spit protects your teeth in the post, How Saliva Protects Your Teeth.

If you suffer from dry mouth, you may be losing the war against plaque in your mouth.  Learn about six causes of dry mouth and 348 medications that can cause dry mouth.

Weapon #8 – Plaque Disclosing Tablets

If you don’t know where the plaque is, it’s hard to destroy it.  Plaque disclosing tablets work by coloring the plaque on your teeth so that you can make sure you’re removing it all when you brush and floss.

To learn more about plaque disclosing tablets, including the best places to buy them, read How Plaque Disclosing Tablets Can Help You Brush Better.

Weapon #9 – Chewing Gum

Chewing stimulates your salivary glands.  Some types of chewing gum are better than others.  Make sure you’re chewing the right type of gum for your oral health by reading about which of the three types of chewing gum is best for your teeth.

Weapon #10 – Your Tongue

Your tongue is a big weapon of plaque destruction.  Your tongue (with the help of your saliva – see weapon #7) can help clean sugary food off of your teeth so that you swallow it rather than letting it sit on your teeth and feed the plaque.

Weapon #11 – Certain Foods

Certain foods can actually help your teeth repair themselves after you eat a sugary snack.  Cheese contains phosphates and calcium that your saliva can utilize to help remineralize your teeth after they get “attacked” by the acid from plaque.  To appreciate this effect, you might want to read about what happens in your mouth every time you eat or drink.

Not sure what to eat for healthy teeth?  Learn about 16 delicious foods that you and your teeth will enjoy.

Weapon #12 – Sealants

Sealants are mainly used on children’s permanent molars.  Sealants are a strong plastic material that dentists can flow into the small grooves on the biting surfaces of your children’s teeth.  By covering up these grooves, you remove a nice, hard to brush place where plaque loves to hide.  Sealants are very effective at preventing tooth decay on the biting surface of molar teeth.


Hopefully this article gave you some good ideas about how you can help win the war against plaque in your mouth and help your teeth to live a long life.

Do you have any questions or anything you’d like to say about oral health or hygiene?  I’d love to hear your comments below, and I’ll try to personally respond to each one.  Thanks for reading!

Eat Dessert First for Healthy Teeth

Remember how your parents always made you eat your vegetables first before you could eat your dessert?  That may not have been the best thing for your teeth.

Here’s a story to illustrate this point:

Eat Dessert First for Better TeethLet’s say you go out to the Olive Garden for some great Italian food.  After dinner, you order some Black Tie Chocolate Mousse Cake.  As you eat the cake, the crust gets packed down into the grooves on the chewing surfaces of your back teeth and some might even get stuck in between your teeth.  Depending on how much saliva you have — and you might not have very much —  it could take over half an hour to wash away this sugary treat from your mouth!  That means that your teeth could be exposed to harmful substances and their byproducts for over an hour.

Click here to see a graph of what happens to your teeth every time you eat.

Now, suppose you had the cake first, and then ate a salad.  The chewing action of the lettuce leaves would easily be able to wash away the cake, and your mouth would be free from the high concentration of sugar much more quickly.  This is one reason that dental experts recommend eating sugar with meals.  It’s also why I wrote about how it’s better to drink soda pop when you eat a meal.

Do You Need to Eat Dessert First for Healthy Teeth?

CakeNo, you don’t need to eat dessert before your regular meal and there are reasons not to, such as the possibility of spoiling your dinner.  If you don’t want to eat dessert first, you might try drinking some water or anything non-sugary to get that sugar off of your teeth.

I realize that one of the main reasons people choose to have dessert after their dinner is to avoid filling up on empty calories or overeating something that should be eaten in small quantities.  These are both excellent reasons to wait on dessert, or even skip it altogether.  After all, there are health risks associated with being overweight and eating the wrong types of foods as well.  So, if you prefer to eat your dessert after dinner, you could always select a healthier dessert that won’t cause sugar to hang around in your mouth for a long time, such as fresh fruit.  You could also eat something that would aid in mechanically removing the dessert from your teeth, such as cheese or one of these foods.


You don’t necessarily need to eat dessert first.  My point in writing this was to let you know that what matters for your teeth is the order in which you eat your food.  If you eat sugar, it’s a good idea to wash it away with some other food rather than letting it sit on your teeth.

As I was writing this, my wife came up to the computer and said “Another one on food!?”

Looking back through the Food & Drink category, I realize that I probably have written a lot about how food affects your teeth.  What can I say… I like food.  In order to keep this blog more exciting, I’ll be moving on to other dental topics.  If you have any ideas for future articles, feel free to let me know.

Thanks for reading!

Drink Soda Pop and Keep Your Teeth Healthy

Some dentists might say that in an ideal world, nobody would drink soda pop. In my view, in an ideal world, everyone would drink soda pop — it just wouldn’t hurt your teeth!

Of course, we don’t live in that ideal world and it’s important to know that soda pop does pose a serious threat to your teeth (read this article for more information.)

With that said, if you are going to drink soda pop, here’s four tips you can use to minimize the damage that it does to your teeth.

4 Tips You Can Use to Drink Soda Pop and Keep Your Teeth Happy

Drink Pop and Keep Your Teeth Healthy1 – Drink soda pop through a straw.  By drinking the soda pop through a straw, you will minimize the soda pop’s contact with your teeth and quickly whisk it away down your throat.

2 – Drink soda pop during meals.  If you drink the soda pop while you eat a meal, you will be able to wash away the sugar from the soda more quickly.  For example, if you drink some pop and then eat some salad, you will get rid of a lot of the sugar in your mouth when you swallow the salad.  The goal is to not let the sugar hang out in your mouth for too long.

3 – Don’t sip the soda pop slowly, drink it all at once.  Every time you eat or drink sugar, the bacteria in your mouth produce acid waste that dissolves your teeth.  It takes a good 15 to 30 minutes for your saliva to neutralize the acid and start repairing your teeth.

If you sip on soda pop all day, you might never give your saliva a chance to repair your teeth and could eventually start a cavity.

For more information and to view a graph of this process, read What Happens In Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink.

4 – Rinse out with water rather than brushing after you drink soda pop. After you drink soda, you can get rid of a lot of the sugar in your mouth simply by rinsing out with water.  Some oral health experts have warned against brushing after drinking acidic drinks because the abrasive action of brushing can damage the tooth enamel before the saliva has a chance to repair it.Drinking Cola Little Girl


Like all foods that aren’t the greatest for us, soda pop shouldn’t be consumed excessively.

The reason soda pop is so bad for your teeth is because it is acidic and sugary.  By quickly drinking your soda pop and minimizing the amount of time that the sugar spends with your teeth, you’ll be doing your teeth a big favor.

Do you have any questions, comments, or any other suggestions to add about soda pop and oral health?  Please leave a comment below!  Thanks for reading!

Foods that are Good for Your Teeth

It seems that dentists and dental hygienists have a bad reputation for naming off a bunch of foods that aren’t very good for your teeth.

Well… to get rid of that reputation, I’ve decided to do the opposite.  Here’s a list of 16 snacks that you’ll enjoy almost as much as your teeth will:

List of Foods that Are Good for Your Teeth

Fruit Can Be Good for Your Teeth1 – Whole Wheat Bread – The rise of processed starchy foods over the past few decades has no doubt caused many cavities.  White bread with added sugar seems to now be a staple in many homes.  Rather than reaching for something with lots of added sugar to get your carbohydrates, try some whole wheat bread – your teeth and your body will thank you.  My wife makes this whole wheat bread recipe – it tastes pretty good, too.

2 – Fresh Vegetables – Celery, Carrots, Radishes, Cucumbers, Broccoli, and the list could go on!   Fibrous foods, like vegetables are able to stimulate the salivary glands to release lots of saliva, which in turn protects the teeth.  Vegetables also don’t have as much sugar as fruits.  An easy way to that we have found to add vegetables to our diet is by mixing some together in a salad.  Our favorite is cucumber tomato salad.

Watermelon Helps Clean Your Teeth As You Eat It!3 – Fresh Fruit – Yes, fruit does have sugar, but it also provides valuable nutrients for the body.  Fresh fruit is a great choice because it is also fibrous, which makes it takes longer to chew, which releases more saliva which helps your teeth.  This makes it a good match for a healthy mouth in spite of the sugars it contains.  Canned fruit is also good, just make sure that it’s not soaking in a sugary syrup.  If it has added sugar, it might be doing more harm than good.

For more info on fruit and oral health, read the article Is Fruit Good or Bad for Your Teeth?

4 – Plain Yogurt with Fruit – Most of the brands of yogurt at the store seem to think that when you add fruit to pure yogurt, you need to add a few teaspoons of sugar to make it taste good.  Try making your own fruit-flavored yogurt by adding fruit to plain yogurt.

5 – Cottage Cheese with Fresh Peaches or Pears – I’ll be honest.  This used to gross me out just thinking about it…  It may not sound too appetizing to you, either.  But, I have to say that after trying it, it’s a pretty good snack.  Try it — you might just like it, but maybe not as much as your teeth will.

Cheese Neutralizes Acids and Provides Valuable Nutrients For Your Teeth6 – Cheese – Cheese is great for your teeth since it contains calcium, and phosphates.  It also neutralizes harmful acid created by the plaque in your mouth.  There are even little snack-sized 100 calorie packs of delicious cheese that you can take with you wherever you go!

7 – Soups – Chicken soups in the winter warm you up and make your teeth happy! A warning –  Be careful with certain soups such as stews and tomato soups that contain lots of sugar.

Popcorn is Great for Your Teeth!8 – Nuts -Nuts are a great source of nutrition that won’t harm your teeth.  Peanuts are a great choice.  Watch out for peanut butter, as it can contain a lot of added sugar.  Just make sure that you don’t crack the shells with your teeth!

9 – Popcorn – Popcorn is a great food for snacking on.  It beats out all of the other snacks such as potato chips and cheese puffs because it’s not made of refined starch.  Just be sure to floss after you eat it or your dental hygienist may find some popcorn remains in your mouth at your next checkup.  It happened to me when I was a teenager.  She asked me if I’d had popcorn recently.  I said, “I think so.”  That turned out to be the right answer.

Cows Can Help Our Teeth
Cows give us milk and cheese. Both help our teeth.

10 – Milk – Cow’s milk has three key substances: calcium, phosphorus, and casein.  All of those are believed to prevent cavities.  Many different studies have even shown that after drinking milk, the bacteria on your teeth don’t really do any harm to your teeth.  Here’s one such study, and another one.

11 – Hard Boiled Eggs – They are extremely portable and even come in a natural hard package.  Mix things up and make it a deviled egg – just don’t add sugar.

12 – Meats such as turkey and chicken.  Better yet, add it to some whole wheat bread and make a sandwich that will delight your incisors.  Some processed lunch meats can contain a lot of added sugar, so be careful when shopping.

Sunflower Seeds Are Great for Your Teeth!13 – Seeds like pumpkin and sunflower seeds.  Make your own when you carve pumpkins this Halloween or buy some at the store.  If you buy seeds pre-packaged, just check out the ingredients first to ensure that they aren’t sugar-laden.

14 – Smoothies made from milk, fresh fruit, and/or yogurt – This is a great treat that does have some sugar in it, but it’s much better to get your sugar from milk and fresh fruit than it is to get it from sticky candy such as caramel, jelly beans, sour patch kids, or toffee.

Trident Gum Contains Xylitol - Good for Your Teeth!15 – Sugar-free chewing gum – Sugar-free chewing gum is a great way to promote salivary flow in your mouth.  Saliva can washes away food, neutralizes acid in the mouth, and can repair damaged teeth.  If you can’t brush after you eat, try chewing a piece of gum.  Some gums, such as this Trident gum contain xylitol, which is a sugar-alcohol that can actually kill the bacteria that ruin your teeth.

16 – Sugar-free candy – Sugar-free candy also promotes salivary flow in the mouth.  Sucking on sugar-free candy is much better than bathing all of your teeth in a hard-candy sugar bath for 15-20 minutes at a time.

What Other Tooth-Friendly Foods Can You Think Of?

I’m sure I missed some.  Are there any snacks that you like to eat that don’t hurt your teeth?  Let us all know about them in the comments section below!

Different Names for Sugar
©Sea Wave/

Did you know that the average American eats nearly 100 pounds of sugar per year?  For teenagers, the number climbs to nearly 150 pounds per year.

Why do we eat so much sugar?

Perhaps one of the reasons is that it is so prevalent in the food we eat.  Sugar is used to enhance the flavor of foods, add texture, and can also be used as a preservative in some foods.

Another reason we eat so much sugar could be that we’re just not aware of the many ways that food manufacturers sneak sugar into our diet.

Many years ago, you used to be able to look at the ingredient list and find out if a product contained sugar.

Spoon of SugarToday, it’s not that easy.  Food manufacturers are cleverly renaming sweeteners.  Because of this, it’s hard to know exactly what is in the food you eat..

To learn more about how sugar can harm your teeth, read the articles What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque and The Five Sugars that Hurt your Teeth.

Here’s 50 alternative names for sugar that food companies use to trick us.

50 Alternative Names for Sugar

Honey is Sugar
Honey is mostly sugar

1 – High Fructose Corn Syrup
2 – Sucrose
3 – Glucose
4 – Fructose
5 – Lactose
6 – Maltose
7 – Dextrose
8 – Honey
9 – Corn Syrup
10 – Invert Sugar
11 – Invert Sugar Syrup
12 – Molasses
13 – Brown Sugar

Sugar Cane Crystals
Sugar Cane Crystals

14 – Evaporated Cane Juice
15 – Sugar Cane Crystals
16 – Treacle
17 – Demerara Sugar
18 – Fruit Juice Crystals
19 – Dehydrated Fruit Juice
20 – Corn Sweetener
21 – Fruit Juice Concentrate (any fruit or even sugary vegetables such as beet juice!)
22 – Malt Syrup
23 – Raw Sugar
24 – Turbinado Sugar
25 – Syrup
Sugar Cubes

Beets Sugar
Beets are a rich source of sugar

26 – Muscovado Sugar
27 – Glucose Syrup
28 – Barbados Sugar
29 – Sorghum Syrup
30 -Refiner’s Syrup
31 – Beet Sugar
32 – Carob Syrup
33 – Table Sugar
34 – Malt
35 – Buttered Syrup
36 – Maple Syrup
37 – Rice Syrup
38 – Agave Nectar or Syrup

Raisin Syrup is Made from Raisins
Raisin syrup is made from raisins

39 – Powdered Sugar
40 – Confectioner’s Sugar
41 – Corn Syrup Solids
42 – D-Mannose
43 – Sorbose
44 – Galactose
45 – Organic Raw Sugar
46 – Golden Sugar
47 – Date Sugar
48 – Castor Sugar
49 – Golden Syrup
50 – Raisin Syrup

Why Are There So Many Different Names for Sugar?

Sugar Cane Field
A Sugar Cane Field

Food manufacturers are always thinking up new, even “healthy” sounding names for sugar.

One of the most clever names, in my opinion, is the sweetener Kashi uses in their GoLean Crunch Cereal: evaporated cane juice.  Since cane juice is pretty much just “sugar water” then evaporated sugar water leaves you with “sugar.”

No matter how organic or natural-sounding they try to make it, sugar is sugar and it can still cause damage to your teeth.

The Best Way to Find Out How Much Sugar Is In Food

Sugar Nutrition Facts LabelFood manufacturers will undoubtedly come up with new names in the future for sugar.  The best way to see how much sugar is in something is by looking at the nutrition facts label on the back or side of the food item.  You can usually find this information under the Carbohydrates section (on U.S. food labels) and it will usually even say the word Sugars, followed by a certain number of grams.  No matter the exact sugar used, the overall number of grams is the key to finding out how much sugar is hiding in your food.


I’m sure I’ve missed some names…can you think of any other names for sugar?

If so, please leave them below in the comments so we’ll all know what to look out for in our food.

And while we’re on the subject, how do you feel about the way sugars are labeled in the foods you eat?

Do You Cause Your Child's Cavities?
©Sergey Nivens/

It’s sad to see a two year old child with horrible teeth.  At such a young age, children don’t really understand oral hygiene.  Many times, poor oral hygiene in a toddler is the result of parents who don’t understand oral hygiene.  Since most cavities are preventable, this topic fascinates me.  With children of my own,  I have done quite a bit of research on the oral hygiene of toddlers.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry publishes various “policy papers” which inform the world the status of their position on certain issues.  In their paper entitled Policy on Early Childhood Caries (ECC), they spell out five mistakes that parents make that can have a detrimental effect on the oral hygiene of their children.

I’ll list those five mistakes and talk about what you can do as a parent to avoid hurting your child’s teeth.

Smiling Toddler Girl With Teeth

Five Mistakes That Can Give Your Child Cavities

1 – Putting infants to sleep with a bottle that contains sugar. Pretty much any drink that you would give your child to lull them to sleep contains sugar.  Fruit juice and milk both contain sugars that can cause plaque to fluorish and eat away their teeth.

If you must put your child to sleep with a bottle, the only safe beverage to fill it with is water.

2 – Breast feeding on-demand after your baby’s first tooth comes in. The book Pediatric Dentistry by Pinkham states the following:

Infants who are breastfed truly “on demand” may suckle 10 to 40 times in a 24-hour period and are at risk for the consequences of prolonged acid production.  Nevertheless, many feel that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any harmful effects.  Dentists should advise mothers who breastfeed on demand to clean their infant’s teeth frequently, verify that systemic fluoride intake is optimal, and monitor dietary habits carefully.

Each time your baby eats, you expose his or her teeth to the harmful acids that plaque produces.  By setting a schedule to feed your baby, you can drastically reduce the opportunities that bacteria have to cause trouble in your child’s mouth.

3 – Not weaning your child from a bottle after they turn one. The American Academy of Pediatric dentistry says that “Parents should be encouraged to have infants drink from a cup as they approach their first birthday.  Infants should be weaned from the bottle at 12 to 14 months of age.”

When a child drinks out of a cup, they can drink the same quantity of liquid much more quickly than if they were drinking out of a bottle.  By not weaning your toddler from a bottle or sippy cup, you will increase the amount of time that their teeth are exposed to the sugar in their drinks, and increase their risk of getting cavities.

Although it may seem impossible to have your one-year-old child drink out of a cup, it is possible with the right training.   My wife and I began training our daughter to drink out of a small glass when she was 9 months old.  Her first glass was actually a shot glass with a small amount of water.  [Note: Neither my wife nor I drink alcohol, so we bought shot glasses for this very purpose.]  She still used this sippy cup to drink out of as well, but we gradually introduced a real glass, helping her at first.  After a while, she started to catch on.

Now, at fourteen months of age, she can independently drink out of this glass without spilling.  You might wonder why we used a real glass since it is breakable, but after she saw what happened when you drop it on the floor (which we promptly cleaned up) she hasn’t dropped another one!

4 – Habitually giving your child sugar-containing liquids in a bottle or no-spill training cup.

A paper by the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled The Use and Misuse of Fruit Juice in Pediatrics states:

It is prudent to give juice only to infants who can drink from a cup (approximately 6 months or older). Teeth begin to erupt at approximately 6 months of age. Dental caries have also been associated with juice consumption.  Prolonged exposure of the teeth to the sugars in juice is a major contributing factor to dental caries. The AAP and the American Academy of Pedodontics recommendations state that juice should be offered to infants in a cup, not a bottle, and that infants not be put to bed with a bottle in their mouth.  The practice of allowing children to carry a bottle, cup, or box of juice around throughout the day leads to excessive exposure of the teeth to carbohydrates, which promotes development of dental caries.

5 – Giving your child between-meal snacks and prolonged exposures to foods and juice or other beverages containing fermentable carbohydrates.

The Vipeholm Study was able to show us that it’s not just the amount of sugar that someone eats, but also the frequency with which the sugar is consumed that can cause tooth decay.

If you’re not sure what the Vipeholm Study is, you can read the article The Vipeholm Study: Learning About Dental Cavities.

If you can decrease the number of snacktimes that your child has per day, you will decrease the number of times that their teeth are weakened by the acidic by-products of plaque.


By following the above tips, you can ensure that your child will have healthy teeth.  Healthy teeth are valuable to a child’s self-esteem and overall health.  Following these tips can also start a habit of healthy eating that will remain with them throughout their life.

Do you have any questions or comments about your baby’s dental and oral health?  Please leave them below in the comments!

Vipeholm Study Dental Cavities
©Anki Hoglund/

The Vipeholm Study was a study that dental researchers conducted on a group of mentally challenged residents of the Vipeholm Institution.

Institution Representing Vipeholm InstituteDental researchers fed mentally handicapped people lots of sugar for the purpose of studying tooth decay.  Unfortunately, many of these patients ended up losing their teeth to cavities.

Although the study is tragic and wouldn’t be allowed to be done today due to ethics concerns, we learned a great deal about how foods cause cavities from this study.

The participants in the study were all fed the same basic diet.  The participants were divided up into seven groups to compare how subtle changes in the timing and quantity of sugar consumption affected their dental health.

Three Key Groups In the Vipeholm Study

There are three key groups in the Vipeholm study that helped us understand more about how food affects the formation of a cavity on a tooth:

1 – One group ate the original diet with an extra 300 grams of sugar dissolved in solution during their meals.  That’s the equivalent of drinking about five 20 fluid oz. bottles of coke per day during meals!

2 – Another group ate the basic diet with an extra 50 grams of sugar mixed into their bread that they ate during mealtime.

3 – The last group that we’ll talk about ate the basic diet.  However, in between meals, this group also ate snacks of sugary toffee and candy.

Patients Unknowingly Damaged Their Teeth With Sugar in the Vipeholm Study

Which group ended up getting the most cavities and losing the most teeth?  The third group.

When the sugar was consumed in between meals, it gave the bacteria more opportunities throughout the day to form cavities on the teeth.

What We Learned from the Vipeholm Study

The takeaway message from the Vipeholm study was that the frequency of sugar consumption is more important than the amount of sugar consumed.  The study also showed that foods that stick around in the mouth longer have a greater potential to cause cavities.

For example, consider the following two scenarios:

1 – You drink a glass of fruit punch with 40 grams of sugar in 10 seconds.

2 – You chew on a piece of toffee with 5 grams of sugar for two minutes.

Which scenario do you think is more harmful for your teeth?

Chewing the toffee is more harmful for your teeth because it exposes them to sugar for a longer period of time, allowing the bacteria that ruin your teeth more time to wreak havoc.

To learn more about the bacteria that ruin your teeth, read What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque.

Learn More About the Vipeholm Study

If you would like to learn more about the Vipeholm study, including reading about all seven groups and their results, there is a free paper you can read entitled The Vipeholm Dental Caries Study: recollections and reflections 50 years later.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions or comments about the Vipeholm study, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Cookies - Fermentable Carbohydrates

Fermentable carbohydrates.

You may have heard that phrase before and wondered what it means.  In this article, I’ll let you know what fermentable carbohydrates are and how they can hurt your teeth.

What Are Fermentable Carbohydrates?

Fermentable Carbohydrates Cookies and MilkCarbohydrates are sugars and starches.  They are a major source of energy for humans.  When we something with sugar or starch, like white bread, the residues can stick around in our mouth.  These carbohydrates are then broken down by the bacteria that live in our mouth through a process called fermentation.

So, fermentable carbohydrates are simply carbohydrates that can be broken down into acid by the plaque in our mouth.

How Fermentable Carbohydrates Hurt Your Teeth

Fermentable carbohydrates are broken down into acid.  The acid can then dissolve your teeth until it is eventually rinsed away by your saliva.  Luckily, our saliva can repair the damage by laying down new calcium to replace the tooth structure that was lost.

For more on this, read the article Keep Your Teeth Below Freezing.

What Contains Fermentable Carbohydrates?

Fermentable carbohydrates are found in anything that is sweetened with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or any one of 50 other names for sugar.  Many of the starches that we eat are broken down into sugar in our mouth.  If you take a bite of bread and chew on it long enough, you’ll notice that it begins to get sweet.  This is because our spit has an enzyme called salivary amylase (ptyalin) that breaks down starch into sugar.

You might be interested in reading about the five sugars that hurt your teeth.


Fermentable carbohydrates are called fermentable because the bacteria (plaque) in our mouth can break them down into acids that ruin our teeth.  Brushing and flossing our teeth daily can remove the bacteria from off of our teeth and limit the amount of fermentable carbohydrate that gets turned into tooth-dissolving acid.

If you have any questions or comments about fermentable carbohydrates, feel free to leave them below in the comments section.

Sugars That Hurt Teeth
©Tobias Arhelger/

Did you know that carbohydrates are really sugars?  Carbohydrates are just long chains of sugars hooked together.  Fortunately, the bacteria in our mouths can’t break down those long chains of carbohydrates.

However, the bacteria in our mouths do love to feed on the monosaccharides (simple sugars) and the disaccharides (sugars that are links of two simple sugars.)

There are five main sugars that can feed the bacteria in our mouths.  When we feed these oral bacteria, it causes them to produce acid.  This acid sits on our teeth and causes cavities.  The acid can also literally dissolve our teeth if we let it.

Where are these sugars found?  You may be surprised to find that these sugars are in many “healthy” foods, as well as many unhealthy ones.

The Five Sugars That Hurt Your Teeth

Sugar Cubes1. Sucrose – Sucrose is probably the best-known sugar since it is the sugar that most people use in their house, common table sugar.  It is a sugar made up of glucose and fructose.  Sucrose is the main sugar found in most candy.  It is also the sweetest sugar.  Sucrose comes from sugar cane, sugar beets, and maple trees.

An interesting fact about sucrose is that the main bacteria in our mouths may be able to easily convert sucrose into the glue that holds plaque onto our teeth and makes it more difficult to remove when brushing and flossing.

2. Fructose – Fructose is the main sugar found in fruit, berries, melons, corn, and root vegetables such as beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes.  In general, fructose is not considered as sweet as sucrose.  However, when fructose is concentrated into a substance known as high fructose corn syrup, it does become sweeter than sucrose and is much more harmful to our teeth than regular fructose.

High fructose corn syrup has become almost a universal sweetener since it is cheaper, sweeter, and easier to blend into products because it is a liquid.  Next time you drink some fruit punch or soda pop, look at the ingredients, and you will most likely see high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient right after water.

3. Glucose – Glucose is the main energy source of the body.  The body breaks down all of the other sugars into glucose.  Glucose can also be found in many of the foods we eat.  Glucose is usually found linked with other sugars such as with fructose to form sucrose.  However, glucose can be found itself in wines and other foods and drinks.

While glucose is harmful to your teeth, it is the main sugar found in your body.  A recent study shows that glucose may be healthier than fructose for your overall health.  Maybe in the future, more foods and beverages will start being sweetened with glucose rather than fructose.

Grains are Carbohydrates that Contain Maltose4. Lactose – Lactose is more commonly known as milk sugar.  It is a sugar formed by the two simple sugars galactose and glucose.  It is found in many dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.  Although lactose doesn’t even taste sweet, it can still be broken down by the bacteria on your teeth to produce acid.

5. Maltose – Maltose is the sugar that is found in grains such as bread, rice, pasta, and cereal.  It can also be found in drinks that are made from grains, like beer.  Beer not only contains sugar, but it is also acidic enough to dissolve our teeth.  It is made up of two glucose molecules hooked together.

Similar to lactose, maltose doesn’t taste sweet, so we may not think that it is harming our teeth.

You Don’t Need to Avoid Eating Sugar Altogether

The calcium dairy products provides in our diet is very valuable.  Just because dairy products contain lactose doesn’t mean that they should be avoided.  Also, breads, grains, and pasta are very important carbohydrate-rich energy sources that shouldn’t be eliminated from our diet just because they contain maltose.

The most important thing to remember is that we need to have moderation and choose our sugars wisely.  The first three sugars, glucose, fructose, and sucrose don’t really provide a nutritional benefit to us.  We should eat them in moderation.

If you find yourself eating a lot of sugar, you can try rinsing out your mouth after eating.  This will do two things: it will help rinse away the sugar that is hanging around in your mouth and it will rinse away any acid that is already harming your teeth.

Lactose and maltose are found in foods that are very good for us.  These sugars don’t need to be avoided; it’s just important to practice good oral hygiene after eating them so that we minimize the harmful effects of these sugars on our teeth.

Do you have any tips on how to reduce sugar intake? Let us know in the comments!