Another way that sugar can negatively impact your health is via your teeth. Everyone has heard that sugar causes cavities, but what are the repercussions from those cavities, aside from needing extra trips to the dentist to get fillings? Dental health directly impacts overall health, and sugar consumption can worsen both.
Sugar + Teeth
The first thing you need to know about your mouth is that it’s full of bacteria. This is normal and necessary. When you eat sugar, however, some of the bacteria feed on the starches, and the resulting reaction creates acid in the mouth. This acidic state can develop into bacterial infections which can cause damage to the enamel of the teeth and eventually result in dental cavities. This contributes to tooth decay over time as it slowly erodes enamel. Dental plaque, or the filmy buildup that can often be found/felt on teeth, is a major source of mouth bacteria.
How Sugar Impacts Your Oral Health
In addition to damaging the appearance and integrity of your teeth, sugar can also negatively impact oral health in other ways. For example, certain strains of harmful mouth bacteria can be triggered by sugars and develop into gingivitis (an early stage of gum disease) or periodontitis (a severe form of gum disease). As gum disease progresses, gums can become inflamed and teeth can loosen in their sockets. If left unchecked, tooth loss is likely.
How Oral Health Impacts Physical Health
Here’s the thing about oral health problems – they don’t stop in the mouth. Your dental health impacts your overall physical health. Bacteria from the mouth typically get swallowed and neutralized by saliva and stomach acid, but they can also enter the bloodstream and cause problems in other parts of the body.
For example, mouth bacteria can travel through the blood and end up in the heart, causing heart diseases and problems with heart valves. Oral bacteria in the bloodstream also increase the risk of high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and stroke. Additionally, gum disease is a risk factor for:
- heart disease
- pregnancy complications
- rheumatoid arthritis
- diabetes complications
In addition to the direct problems caused by oral bacteria, the resulting inflammatory response to the bacterial infection can create its own host of problems in the body.
Improving Dental Health
While the overall health implications and consequences of poor dental health can be scary, there are several easy steps you can take to improve your oral health and hygiene:
- Avoid sugar, choosing healthier substitutes instead.
- Stimulate saliva to flush out bacteria by chewing sugarless gum.
- Fluoride, fluoride, fluoride. Make sure it’s in your toothpaste, water, and dental treatments.
- Brush and floss regularly to remove plaque.
- Rinse with mouthwash (or at least water) after eating anything with carbs/starches.
- Visit the dentist regularly so they can screen for cavities, gum disease, and other serious health problems.
By improving your dental health, you make an investment in your overall health and wellbeing. These simple steps can not only protect your teeth but also your heart, brain, lungs, and more.