Being healthy is something that most of us aim for.
We brush our teeth twice a day. We go for a jog around the neighbourhood. We eat a handful of nuts instead of chomping on a chocolate bar. We see our doctor if we don’t feel well, but even though we may go to the effort of doing all of these ‘healthy’ habits, are you undoing all of your hard work by consuming processed foods that contain a significant amount of sugar?
Let’s face it, sugar is everywhere in supermarket staples. Some might appear to be healthy on the surface, but there might be a few ingredients that could have a negative affect on your oral health.
So, we’re pulling back the sugary curtain to show you what’s really in the food you eat.
This information could help you be healthier overall, but especially for your oral health. Essentially, we want you to become more “sugar savvy”.
Hiding in plain sight
You might think that a little extra sugar here and there isn’t such a big deal, but the odds are, you might be taking in far more sugar than you realise.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2011-12 that Australians on average consumes an average of 12 teaspoons of sugar a day. This is more than the1.
To flip these statistics on their head, the Australian Dental Association constantly looks at ways to educate Australians about the importance of maintaining good oral health. However, in this article we focus on the food you eat, how sugar can negatively affect your dental health and what other tips you can incorporate in order to further protect your teeth.
Eat and drink well
Beyond limiting the sugar you eat, the Australian Dental Association recommends drinking more water, avoid acidic foods and drinks and snacking between meals and concentrating on the good stuff like vegetables and dairy products1a.
Foods with hidden sugars like biscuits, crackers, cereals, chips and even dried fruit can cause acid attacks on your tooth enamel as they break down into sugars in the mouth2a. On top of this, snacking frequently doesn’t allow your mouth the time to neutralise these acid attacks that occur when eating and therefore increasing your risk of damage to your tooth enamel2a.
Of course, before you make any major dietary changes, first check with a healthcare professional.
Chewing sugar-free gum (and that’s the crucial qualifier, it must be sugar-free!) may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re thinking about good dietary habits that benefit your teeth. But, studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating can prompt your mouth to produce more saliva, which helps neutralise decay-causing acid attacks2a.
How you can further care for your pearly whites?
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy can be easy by following a few of the following simple tips.
If you're like most people, there’s not a whole lot of brushing going on. In fact, only 53% of Australians brush twice a day1. The reality is that a quick, occasional dash along your teeth with a hope and a prayer is not going to cut it. As your dentist will tell you, you need to brush for at least two minutes, twice a day. Taking care to use a soft-bristled toothbrush, start at the back of your mouth and slowly brush in small circular motions If you brush too hard you could run the risk of progressively wearing away at your gums1.
While you’re there, feel free to brush your tongue. This will actually reduce the bacteria in your mouth and help keep your breath fresh1.
Flossing (other known as interdental cleaning) once a day is important because it removes plaque from between your teeth. Flossing can go a long way in helping to prevent gum disease, tooth decay and halitosis ("bad breath")2. It's not something that should be rushed either. Here are some basic tips on how to floss properly:
- Take your time, wind 45cm of floss around your middle finger and rest it across your thumbs.
- Gently use an up and down motion along one side of each tooth. Do not go past the collar of the gum.
- Talk to your dentist if you’re unsure of your technique. They can show you all the right flossing moves2.
Say "Hello!" To your dentist
If you have a regular dentist, you should be seeing them more often than you probably are. Australia’s Oral Health Tracker reported that less than 50% of Australians have seen a dentist in the last 12 months1.
If you don’t currently see your dentist every 6 to 12 months or as needed, then you should reconsider this in order to keep on top of your dental health1.
Finally, are you looking to learn more about how the average Aussie isn’t giving their dental health the required amount of attention? Australia’s Oral Health Tracker, is a national report card that outlines the latest data on Australian oral health; how these figures compare to the past and how they are tracking against the proposed population health targets for 2025.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also enjoy listening to the Australian Dental Association’s podcast sugar savvy. The series covers how you can deal with the impacts of sugar on oral health.
1. Australian Dental Association. (2021). Dental Health Week. Accessed https://www.ada.org.au/Dental-Health-Week-2020/About
1a. Australian Dental Association. (2021). Diet and oral health. How eating and drink habits affect our teeth. Accessed https://www.ada.org.au/getattachment/Your-Dental-Health/Resources-for-Professionals/Resources-for-Teens-12-17/Diet-and-oral-health,-how-eating-and-drink-habits/ADA_FactSheets_dietandoralhealth.pdf.aspx
2. Australian Dental Association. (2021) Your Dental Health: Flossing. Accessed https://www.ada.org.au/Your-Dental-Health/Younger-Adults-18-10/flossing
2a. Australian Dental Association. (2020). Diet and Nutrition. Accessed https://www.ada.org.au/Dental-Health-Week/Oral-Health-for-Busy-Lives/Diet-and-Nutrition
3. Australian Government Department of Health. (2017). Policy context relating to sugars in Australia and New Zealand. Accessed https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/fr/publishing.nsf/Content/C6995F10A56B5D56CA2581EE00177CA8/$File/Policy%20Context%202017.pdf