Despite continuing education on the importance of good oral care habits to prevent tooth decay, cavities still affect nearly 100% of adults worldwide, and as much as nine out of ten Filipinos. This can be attributed to the lack of awareness on the importance of food in caring for the teeth, which has led the American Dietetic Association to state that, “nutrition is an integral component of oral health.
Dental care habits ingrained from childhood include brushing and flossing, visiting the dentist at least twice a year, and using a fluoride toothpaste. However, the role of individual diets on oral health has not been addressed beyond the usual warning to avoid sweets to prevent tooth decay.
Thought your family is safe from cavities just because they avoid sweets? Think again. While sweets are a major contributor to cavities, all types of food can cause cavities – even healthy options – because of a little-known byproduct of food consumption, sugar acids.
According to Dr. Vicente O. Medina III, Dean of College of Dentistry at the University of the Philippines Manila, sugar acids are created “when common oral bacteria feed on starchy food residue, usually within minutes of a meal. The acid level in the dental plaque rises, enabling sugar acids to attack the teeth.” While most people would be quick to blame sugar, it is actually sugar acids that are number one cause of cavities.
Since sugar acids are byproducts of starchy foods, even daily staples such as rice and bread, fruits and vegetables, and soda and snacks contribute to cavities. In addition, the longer food stays in the mouth, the higher the incidence of trapped food particles, and the higher the risk of tooth decay. Foods perceived as sticky do not stay in the mouth for long while those perceived as non-sticky are actually retained longer. Potato chips stay longer in the mouth compared with milk chocolate and caramels, while chocolate and bananas are cleared from the mouth faster than white bread.
What does this mean for families? Most people have grown up with the notion that sweets are either the only or the number one cause of cavities. However, these studies have shown that it is sugar acids from high starch foods that attack teeth and cause tooth decay even with a healthy diet. Even simple eating habits such as snacking and chewing gum can contribute to cavities because they prolong the period in which sugar acids can attack teeth. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, “acids found in diet and regular soda, energy drinks, juice and wine can erode tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay.”
By focusing on a diet healthy not only for the body but also on the teeth everyone can combat sugar acids and prevent cavities even while eating. A balanced diet, along with proper dental care using products that combat sugar acids, and a daily cleaning regimen, a cavity-free future can be within reach.