A Dental Blog Focused on Improving Oral and Dental Health

The Five Sugars That Hurt Your Teeth

Sugar CubesDid 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.

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!


Tags: , , ,

I recently updated the website and it reset all of the sharing counters to 0. If you found this post helpful, please like, tweet, or +1 it. Thanks!

Share, Bookmark, or Email  

4 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. I've recently started eating a paleo diet and I've replaced a lot of my sucrose intake with fructose and glucose and my teeth has become a lot more sensitive but they feel clean. It's interesting that sucrose is converted into a glue for plaque to stick to our teeth.

    • Hi Greg - Thanks for your comment. Any time your teeth are in pain, it's a good idea to ask your dentist about it to make sure that there aren't any problems that need to be dealt with. Good luck with your diet!

  2. carbohydrates aren't sugars, sugars are carbohydrates - big difference... Most carbohydrates are not sugars...sugars are a subgroup of carbohydrates. Sweetness is a subjective experience. HFCS, is just a corn syrup in which some of the glucose has been turned into fructose, most humans find fructose to be sweeter than glucose. Sweetness has nothing to do with how harmful a sugar is to our teeth. The acid produced by bacteria is simply a byproduct of their energy metabolism of sugars. I.e. all sugars that they break down via this process produce the same amount of acid in theory. So it is the sugar amount that is the problem not which sugar unless you can show that the bacteria in question can absorb certain sugars more efficiently or metabolise them quicker than others(this may very well be the case, I suspect it has not been investigated..).

    The alkalinity and buffer of the saliva is another factor that is important, if the saliva can neutralise the acid produced by the bacteria it wont hurt the teeth.

    • Hi Jesper - I may not have been very clear above. I was trying to say that carbohydrates are made up of sugars. The word saccharide means sugar. Disaccharides and monosaccharides are commonly referred to as sugars. Polysaccharides (a chain of multiple sugars) are called starches or carbohydrates. My point in that was that carbohydrates are broken down into their component sugars in our bodies and can be broken down in our mouth by enzymes in our saliva.

      Research has shown that the frequency of sugar intake is more important than the amount of sugar when it comes to causing cavities. Some sugars are more harmful than others. Here's one such study that demonstrates this.

      Thanks for your comment, Jesper - Sorry for the lack of clarity above.

Leave a Response


Disclaimer

This site is intended for educational, informative, and entertainment purposes only. It should not replace a visit to a health professional. Only a health professional that is examining you in person, with a patient-doctor relationship can truly understand your unique situation. Click here to read the full disclaimer of Oral Answers.

Participate

Thanks for stopping by Oral Answers! Did you know that every article has a lively discussion in the comments section? There's no need to even register to leave a comment, although you might want to read the commenting guidelines.

Want an icon to show up when you leave a comment? On this gravatar-enabled site, all you have to do is upload your custom icon at Gravatar.com.

You can also subscribe to our RSS feed and get updates whenever a new article is posted!

About Me

Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

Thanks for stopping by!