How Does Sugar Affect Your Teeth?

We all know that sugar is bad for our teeth. But what is the process behind sugar and how it causes tooth decay? Knowing sugar’s role in cavity formation can help you take action against it. We’ve put together an explanation of sugar’s effect on teeth as well as some ideas for tooth-friendly snacks.

Let’s start with the basics of how sugar affects your teeth. First and foremost, sugar and starches cause a reaction in the mouth that promotes harmful bacteria. These bacteria attack your teeth, eventually causing plaque buildup and tooth decay if they are allowed to thrive.

Sugar also changes the pH levels in your mouth, making your saliva more acidic. When your teeth take a constant beating of acidic levels and sticky sugar, your tooth enamel begins to weaken due to the loss of minerals. At some point, the enamel breaks down. A cavity forms. So, the sugar causes a chain reaction of events that encourages plaque to form, and it’s the plaque that initiates cavities.

As you might guess, some sugars accelerate plaque formation more than others. Did you know that the sugar and starches in crackers and potato chips are among the snack foods that can be bad for your teeth? And dried fruit, while healthy in some ways, also sticks to teeth, which gives the sugars a better chance at feeding bad bacteria. Acidic drinks can also be hard on the teeth, even if they don’t contain sugar. So, what can you eat that is better for your teeth? Keep reading to learn about snacks and drinks that are better for your teeth.

Better Options for Snacks

You often hear what not to eat or drink when it comes to foods for oral health. Let’s put a positive spin on snacking by instead focusing on better snacks that can help your teeth and your overall health. Drinking water, eating raw vegetables and apples, and chewing sugar-free gum offer a few ways to satisfy cravings while doing your teeth a favor.


Refreshing and cool, drinking water is a positive step for your overall health. When it comes to sugar, you can avoid reaching for a sugary treat by drinking more water to make you feel fuller. If you do indulge in a handful of caramel corn, you can rinse your mouth out with water afterward to help keep the sugar from sticking to your teeth. Preferably, you will take a sip of the fluoridated tap water provided by your city. If you don’t have fluoridated water, regular tap water or bottled water will wash the sugar away, but you won’t get the strengthening benefits of fluoride. 

Raw Vegetables

Help your gum health by crunching on raw vegetables instead of potato chips or crackers. Raw veggies also cleanse the surface of molars as you chew, and most don’t contain that much sugar. Broccoli and cauliflower can be prepared in advance, portioned up for your whole family as snacks, and taken along to school, on hikes and road trips, and eaten for an afternoon snack. Carrots, which do contain sugar, don’t stick to your teeth, so they are still acceptable alternatives to carb-heavy snacks that adhere their sugars to your teeth. Plus, they’re nutritious! Many veggies provide calcium and other vitamins and minerals, which your teeth also need.


One way to satisfy your sweet tooth is with a sweet, juicy apple. While they still contain natural sugars, apples offer crunchy, palate-cleansing crispness. They contain a lot of water and help keep teeth and gums healthy. Besides, studies have shown apples to be a healthful snack many times over. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” so it’s probably good for keeping you and your dentist happy, too!

Sugar-Free Gum

If you want something to chew on, try sugar-free gum! It stimulates saliva production to help prevent plaque buildup.

Candies and Gum Containing Xylitol

Xylitol interferes with bacteria to help prevent cavities. 

How We Can Help

Remember that keeping up with regular dental care, especially brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste, provides your best protection against getting cavities. If you can brush your teeth after having a sugary snack to prevent plaque buildup, that is probably a good idea. If not, rinse your mouth with water and drink water until you can brush your teeth later.

Keep up with your daily flossing and regular dental visits to Westdale Dental, too. The more steps you take to protect and care for your teeth, the better off you will be!