Halloween is only a few weeks away, and you know what that means: CANDY. No matter how old you are, Halloween has always been a good excuse to indulge your sweet tooth. A little bit is fine, but too much for too long can have lasting consequences. Don’t turn your mouth into a foreboding haunted house: keep the demons of tooth decay at bay with these wellness tips!
We’ve all heard the warnings from our dentists that too much sugar causes cavities, but how does it happen? It’s all about plaque, saliva, and acids. When you eat sugar, it feeds bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria—Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sorbrinus—devour sugar and use it to create dental plaque, which is a sticky, colorless layer of film that forms on the surface of your teeth. Plaque that isn’t washed away builds-up over time, creating a more acidic environment in your mouth that can cause cavities to form.
Some amount of acid in your mouth isn’t unusual. When you eat sweets or drink highly acidic beverages like soda, acid will remove minerals from your tooth enamel in a process called demineralization. Think of enamel as armor for your teeth, protecting the more sensitive dentin housed within. Luckily nature has made a countermeasure for this: your saliva!
Saliva contains minerals (including calcium and phosphate) that help repair the damage done to your enamel during an acid attack. This process of remineralization is even more effective when paired with fluoride from water and toothpaste.
The bad news, however, is that this natural process is far from foolproof. If you eat or drink a lot of sweet, acidic foods, it can overwhelm this cycle of repair. The acid ends up doing more damage than can be repaired, so the plaque builds up and the risk of developing cavities goes up.
A cavity is a hole in your tooth caused by tooth decay. Here are a few red flags to be aware of:
- Pain when chewing
- Acute sensitivity to sweet, hot, or cold foods and drinks
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth
- Brown or black staining on the surface of a tooth
It’s not always possible to spot a cavity, so it’s very important to see a dentist when you experience these pains.
Hard Candy Crunch
Another risk factor that Halloween sweets pose is that hard candy can chip, crack, or dislodge teeth if you’re not careful! Avoid biting down on any kind of hard candy; whatever sweetness it may yield at the moment isn’t worth the cost of emergency dental work.
How To Keep Your Teeth Healthy During Sweets Season
If you have a sweet tooth, don’t worry! None of this means that you have to forsake your favorite treats; it just means you need to be proactive and consistent when it comes to taking care of your teeth. Here’s a few things you can do to keep your pearly whites in tip-top shape:
- Brush, rinse, floss. The most tried and true method is doing your daily upkeep. Brush twice a day, floss, use mouthwash.
- Drink with a straw. You can limit the impact of sugary/acidic drinks like soda by drinking them with a straw.
- Eat more raw fruits and vegetables. Not only are these food groups jam-packed with essential vitamins and minerals they can also increase the flow of saliva in your mouth.
- Chase sweets with water. Drink some water (preferably tap or bottled water that contains fluoride) after eating sweets. The water will help rinse out your mouth and dilute any sugar that’s sticking to your enamel.
- Sweets in moderation. Eat sugary/sticky/acidic foods on special occasions. Eat them as part of a meal and not as an in-between treat. Grouping your food together like this will fill you up and make you feel less tempted to snack between meals.
- Chew sugar-free gum. Chewing sugar-free gum stimulates saliva production, which helps combat plaque buildup.
- Dental checkup. We know, we know: most of us aren’t eager to see our dentist on a regular basis, but a checkup every six months or so will do you a world of good.