Does Sugar Really Cause Tooth Decay?
Sugar is devoid of nutrients. If you want to grow big and strong and function at optimal levels you could not do it on a diet solely made up of sugar.
If this is the case, why then would bacteria, who need nutrients to survive just like you, choose sugar as their preferred food when there are so many other essential nutrients and factors available to support growth provided by its host – you and the diet you consume?
In fact, sugar is added to food and flour is refined to stop the food rotting – a process that is caused by bacteria. So, if sugar switches off or inhibits bacterial activity, why do the bacteria that are thought to be responsible for causing tooth decay to use it as a food source?
When you look at it this way it doesn’t make sense.
Could it be that the bacteria found in cavities are actually not responsible for creating the cavity but just happen to be there after the fact? After all your mouth is teeming with billions of bacteria all the time.
The bacteria responsible for tooth decay (according to my notes from when I was a dental student) is called Strep Mutans.
However, to cause tooth decay Strep Mutans would have to:
1. Eat foods that normal bacteria do not eat, including white sugar, white flour, and pasteurised products – foods that are processed by the food industry so bacteria will not eat them.
2. Not eat food that normal bacteria like to eat, such as meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.
3. Be the only bacteria in existence that can survive off of a diet with no nutrients.
You (and I) have been told that white sugar causes tooth decay. But sugar kills bacteria. White sugar impairs bacterial function as it attracts water and dehydrates them, something the Sugar Association itself readily admits.
Why is Sugar So Bad?
According to a 2012 article in the journal Nature, sugar is a toxic substance that should be regulated like tobacco and alcohol. Studies show that too much sugar (both in the form of natural sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup) not only helps make us fat, it also wreaks havoc on our liver, messes up our metabolism, impairs brain function, and may leave us susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, and maybe even cancer.
Demineralisation and Remineralisation
So far I have focused on inflammation and toxins, sugar and touched on the need for optimal nutrition and you may have been wondering what all this has got to do with tooth decay and dental disease. Well, the reason is, I believe tooth decay is caused by a lack of nutrients and systemic imbalances in the body, like inflammation and toxicity.
Tooth decay is caused by a deficiency of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in the body that are required to build healthy teeth.
Teeth are very similar to bones. Bones do not rot or decay. Bones, however, can lose minerals. This is termed osteoporosis. Just like bones teeth also lose minerals – a process that is called demineralisation or more commonly tooth decay. Yet like bones, teeth do not rot or decay they become weak and porous due to lack of minerals.
So what happens to make bones and teeth demineralise when the minerals are what makes up their very structure and provides them with strength?
Tooth enamel is made up of a mineral-rich layer called hydroxyapatite containing an abundance of calcium and phosphate.
The body constantly needs to regulate it’s levels of minerals such as calcium and phosphate so as to maintain its acid-alkaline balance and provide organs with what they require to function. On a daily basis, the calcium and phosphate from the teeth go to the bones, brain, heart and other organs via the bloodstream to provide the body with a supply of what it requires to self-regulate and function properly. This process of minerals migrating from the teeth is called demineralisation.
The teeth are in a constant state of flux between dissolving – demineralisation and growing back – remineralisation.
The ability of the enamel to remineralise depends on several factors:
It would make more sense that if there are several factors involved in tooth remineralisation then there must be more than one reason tooth decay develops.
Tooth decay is a multifactorial process that depends on the availability of the correct nutrients, enzymes and hormones, not on sugar consumption and bacteria.
Earlier I asked you what causes tooth decay and told you that sugar was both the right and wrong answer. Wrong form the perspective that sugar feeds bacteria that then produce acid and eat holes in your teeth.
Right because a diet high in sugar creates inflammation, acidity and toxicity and disturbs gut function leading to malabsorption of nutrients all of which add to systemic issues that make you more prone to dental disease.