Most people know that eating too much sugar will cause cavities. But can sugar just be a pain in the tooth? Or, is the mouth a sign of how sugar causes problems all over the body?
You know the story. You’ve got a whopping toothache and you finally get the courage to go to your dentist. Then, as you tilt back in the chair, you get the lecture about how you’ve eaten too much sugar.
Yes, the sugar and tooth decay link has been around for decades. But it’s failed to prevent tooth decay being one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adults.
Why is this the case? Do we not care about our teeth? Is the real problem that we don’t understand what sugar does to our mouth and how it relates to the body?
What the science says…
If we break down how sugar causes tooth decay, we can see how it’s also linked to diseases beyond just a cavity. Thankfully, scientists have helped to map this process out.
Advances in the knowledge of bacteria in the body tell us that sugar not only hurts your teeth but your entire body.
Since the human microbiome project in 2008, our understanding of the role of microbes (AKA bacteria) in the body has exploded! In fact, we now know that our body is in partnership with our bacteria to make sure we stay in good health.
How this relates to oral health.
The bacterial model of tooth decay assumes that decay is an infection process. But, the microbiome model of tooth decay describes it as an imbalance between the healthy (and not-so-healthy) population of bugs in our mouth.
Certain species of the oral microbiome are known to play a protective role in the mouth, making sure the bad guys don’t take over. When you eat sugar however, it floods the oral environment with simple carbohydrates (that’s what sugar is). This, in turn, feeds a certain group of bacteria in the mouth, which will eventually outnumber the good guys.
While there are an abundance of studies linking gut health to diseases like autoimmunity, type 2 diabetes and even brain health, there is plenty more research to be done. But, tooth decay can signal the harmful shift in your microbiota that may correlate to other, more serious diseases, throughout the rest of the body.
One big problem with dental advice has been the sole focus on the link to just teeth when in reality, your mouth is a sign of your systemic health.
As a dentist that focuses on nutrition, I’ve found that people need help removing sugar from their life. That’s why the I Quit Sugar program has been so rewarding for many people.
And, it’s one principle that I’ve outlined in my book, The Dental Diet, that helps people to eat healthy tasty food for great oral health!