There’s no sugarcoating it — sugar damages teeth

Posted on May 4, 2022 in General oral health

young white woman holding up a sugary donut on a forkYou’ve probably heard sugar isn’t good for your teeth since you were a young child — but do you know why? Learn more and see how easy it can be to cut down on your sugar consumption and limit its effects on your teeth.  

What sugar does to your teeth

As much as you might like sugar, the bacteria in your mouth are even more fond of it. Bacteria feed on sugar, forming dental plaque that becomes acidic and makes holes in your teeth — in other words, it causes cavities. That plaque can also lead to gum disease and bad breath.

Foods that are full of sugar — including surprising ones 

It’s well known that many tempting foods are full of sugar, including cookies, pies, cakes, candy, ice cream, frosting and non-diet soda. Sticky sweets that linger on your teeth – like caramels and dried fruit – are especially damaging.

However, you may be shocked to find many other items — including some considered to be healthy and others that don’t even taste sweet — contain large amounts of added sugar, including:

  • Flavored yogurt
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Ketchup 
  • Spaghetti sauce 
  • Canned soup 
  • Baked beans
  • Breakfast cereals, granola and granola bars 
  • Canned fruit, especially in heavy syrup 
  • Dried fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Packaged muffins
  • Salad dressing
  • Fruit juice
  • Chocolate milk
  • Sports and energy drinks
  • Flavored coffees
  • Sweetened iced tea
  • Smoothies
  • Coffee creamers

Foods that are high in carbs, like chips, pretzels and crackers can also damage teeth. That’s because these foods can stick in your teeth and break down into cavity-causing sugar. 

Children who regularly snack on starchy potato chips and sugary cookies are four times more likely to get cavities than kids who don’t.1

How to limit sugar damage to your teeth 

Whenever possible avoid foods and drinks that are high in sugar. If you do indulge, do so in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day for most women and nine teaspoons for most men.

When you eat or drink something sugary, it’s better to do so at mealtime rather than as a snack. Your mouth produces more saliva at a meal, helping wash away sugar. If you snack or sip on high-sugar items frequently, you’re exposing your teeth to sugar more often, increasing your risk of cavities.

After consuming something sugary, make sure to drink water to help remove some of the sugar from your teeth. Chewing sugar-free gum can also stimulate your saliva flow to help clean your teeth.

As part of a healthy, well-balanced diet eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, low-sugar dairy products and water. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit or low-sugar versions of some popular sweet foods and drinks, as long as they aren’t acidic.

Limiting sugar to no more than 10% of your daily calories has been shown to decrease your risk of tooth decay.The average person consumes about 350 calories in added sugar daily.3

In addition to eating less sugar, you can greatly reduce your risk of cavities by brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes each time, flossing daily and visiting your dentist regularly.



3Harvard School of Public Health