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
1. 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.
4. 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!