How Sugar Causes Cavities

Whether it be through motherly nagging, everyday advertising, or spreads in a health journal, everyone has heard that sugar causes cavities. Yes, there is a positive correlation between sugar consumption and tooth decay. However, the date between your enamel and the Twinkie you just ate goes a little differently than you might expect. This rendezvous also includes mouth bacteria and your tooth’s real killer: bacteria’s excrement, acid.


About a minute ago you were savoring that Twinkie. Now you’re thinking about the sugary remnants that linger, saturating and corroding until you can get home and brush. Hoping that sugar won’t create a need for cosmetic dentistry from an Austin dentist.  Actually, sugar does not directly break down tooth enamel. An article published in the New York Times states that it only takes about 20 seconds for sugars to be broken down in the mouth. Sugars found in candy and sweets are known as ‘simple sugars’ or ‘simple carbohydrates’, and are immediately consumed by the body to produce that energetic rush or ‘sugar high’ we feel when we eat them. Sugar alone won’t actually do a thing to your teeth. So how is it that sugar has been hailed the creator of cavities, the destroyer of tooth enamel? Well, people can see for themselves that an increased sugar intake can eventually lead to tooth decay if not properly managed. But we cannot see the microscopic changes happening to the sugar after we have taken a bite. So what is actually going on?

As you’re licking your fingers and peeling Twinkie fragment off the wrapper, mouth bacteria actively breaks down the sugar. Now, when people think of bacteria, many have a negative image of germs or disease. There several different kinds of bacteria located in the mouth, not all of which contribute to dental problems. Unfortunately, when you enjoy a sweet treat, the kind of bacteria that responds to sugar is responsible for cavities (specifically, the strain streptococcus mutans). Bacteria feeds on sugar lodged in the teeth, breaking it down and converting it to acid. Acid, in turn, feeds on your teeth, causing cavities.

It’s not sugar, it’s acid

It’s not just acid created by bacteria breaking down sugars of the solid Twinkie variety that cause cavities and tooth decay. In our article Diet Soda- Is it Really Better for You? we discussed the ultimate downfall of diet soda. Carbonic acid dissolves over your teeth, causing the same types of enamel damage that you see from other pop drinks or sweet snacks. How do you stop these acids? Well, the combined forces of brushing and flossing are still the best methods for removing harmful bacteria and acid over your teeth. It is important to remember that plaque –colonies of these types of bacteria— builds up just hours after you have finished eating, collectively excreting enough acid to begin attacking and boring through tooth enamel. We all have our guilty snack pleasures, but a handy toothbrush goes a long way towards curbing the likelihood of cavities.

If you the acid from bacteria has already done it’s damage you can contact Dr. Dan Matthews, a cosmetic dentist in Austin.  We offer a variety of cosmetic procedures including white fillings, porcelain veneers, dental crowns and dental implants at our Austin dental officeSchedule an appointment today for a complimentary consultation!

Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
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