Do sugary foods cause tooth decay?

Ok…….we have all heard that sugar and chocolates cause tooth decay. So is this true!? Sugars are a part of the entire bacterial tooth decay process. Although other factors affect tooth decay, the sugars in our foods is the substrate for the bacteria to grow.

Let’s find out……..

Below is a chart showing the reasons or factors that cause tooth decay.

  1. Host / teeth
  2. Bacteria
  3. Time
  4. Sugary food
  5. Decay
  6. Saliva
  7. Fluoride

A susceptible tooth surface (1)when attacked by bacteria in the plaque(2) for a continuous span of time (3)using the sugar as a substrate (4)will cause a decay(5). The buffering capacity of the saliva (6) and the amount of fluoride(7) can alter the decay process.

If we look a little further into each of the factors

Host or the tooth surface

The structure of the tooth plays an important role in the tooth decay process. The tooth enamel is the outermost part of the tooth and hence is the first layer that is involved in a decay process. Enamel is the strongest part of your body. However, when the acids from the bacteria remain on the enamel for long hours, your tooth enamel dissolves. This weakens the tooth and makes it easy for the bacteria to reach the dentin, which is the inner layer of the tooth.


Our mouth is the home for many types of bacteria. But one particular type of bacteria called the Streptococcus mutans is the reason for cavities and tooth infection. These bacteria strive well in an acidic environment. And they also produce acids that damage the tooth enamel. These bacteria are tightly adherent to the dental plaque.


Time plays vital role in the tooth decay process. The length of time the bacterial acids stay in contact with the tooth surface determines your susceptibility to tooth decay. The longer the time of contact and more frequent exposure of the tooth to the acids, causes cavities and subsequent tooth pain.Therefore, frequent removal of the sticky and sugary foods from the surface of the tooth is important to prevent tooth decay.

Sugary foods

Foods that are rich in sugars and are sticky supply the bacteria with the  substrate to generate acids. The longer the food remains on the tooth surface and the more frequent the supply of these high sugar foods, then the greater is the chance of the tooth developing a cavity. It is, hence, advisable to avoid in-between meal snacks, especially for children.

You will be surprised to know that some of these foods are actually sticky and sugary for the health of your teeth.

  • Naturally occurring in honey, fruits and milk
  • Dry fruits like raisins, dates and apricots
  • Candies
  • Cakes, Biscuits and cookies
  • Flavoured milks and yoghurts
  • Breakfast cereals and cereal bars
  • Jams
  • Fruits canned in syrups
  • Sauces, ketchup and syrups
  • Sweets and chocolates
  • Starchy foods like chips and wafers


Human saliva is vital part of the mouth. Saliva has many properties of blood and hence is a very useful diagnostic tool. Our saliva has a great buffering capacity because of the different minerals in its composition. So the PH of our saliva and the types of food we eat has a direct effect on our decay risk. By and large sugary foods decrease the PH of saliva and make it more acidic. Because, its well known that the end products of sugar breakdown is acids.


The tooth surface can be altered by the fluoride. Fluoride replaces the calcium of the tooth and forms a much stronger structure that is resistant to the bacterial attack. This process of remineralisation is beneficial in the initial decay process. Topical fluorides are very effective in this. Hence, Fluoride can also be supplied as tooth paste and mouth washes for everyday use. In children a routine of topical fluoride application by the dentist has proven to be effective in preventing tooth decay.

It goes without saying that regular brushing, flossing, using a fluoridated tooth paste and mouth rinsing is the key to prevent tooth decay. And don’t forget to visit your friendly dentist for your check-ups.


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