It’s not how much sugar you eat, but how often you eat it that will do the damage, i.e. the frequency and duration rather than the quantity. Cut down on the amount of times you eat and drink sugars per day, and avoid snacking between meals. The bacteria in plaque make acid out of the sugars we eat, and the acid gradually eats a hole into the tooth structure. The more often and the longer the teeth are exposed to the sugar-acid cycle, the faster decay will develop and the more severe it will be.

What ‘tooth-safe’ foods can I eat between meals?

Healthy snacks between meals, e.g. cheese and crackers, cheese strings etc., hummus and veg sticks breadsticks, carrot sticks, sliced apples, peanuts, nuts (except allergy sufferers) and seeds, plain or salted popcorn, olives, are great, but beware of the toffee-like raisins and other dried fruit!

Check the ingredients labels of the foods and drinks you buy for the sugar content.

Sometimes supposedly healthy foods are not very good for your teeth, or say ‘no added sugar’ but contain natural sugars, e.g. fruit yogurt, fruit squashes. Did you know that there are approximately 3 teaspoons of sugar in a 180ml pouch of smoothie, and one teaspoon of sugar in a little pot of fromage-frais? Look out for sugars by different names: sucrose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, syrup, invert syrup, invert malt syrup. The nearer the start of the ingredient list the sugar is, the more sugar the product is made of. You can also look at the ‘Carbohydrates: of which sugars’ list to see how much sugar is in 100g of the product. 

Which drinks are safe for my teeth?

The only tooth safe drinks are water and milk. Avoid sugary drinks like minerals and fruit squashes between meals, and keep fruit juices for meal times too. The liquid sugar solution in them is very good at causing tooth decay when consumed regularly between meals. Try to use a straw when drinking sugary drinks as it will bring the liquid further back into your mouth where it is in less contact with the teeth.

What about eating before bed?

It’s best not to eat or drink anything except water within half an hour of going to sleep.  Only water is suitable for drinking after brushing your teeth at night. When we go to sleep our body reduces the amount of saliva that we produce (because it’s not needed then), and saliva is good at neutralising the acid that plaque bacteria produce. So if we eat just before going to bed, the mouth doesn’t have a chance to naturally cleanse itself with saliva, and the plaque bacteria have a night long party on our teeth.

How can I be ‘treat-wise’?

Avoid ‘sweet treats’ between meals, keep them for just after main meals, and have ones that can be eaten quickly in one go, and not slowly over time. There are sugar free treats available in some stores like M&S and Boots. They contain artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, but they are still a treat.

Sugar free chewing gum is great for making saliva: Saliva is great for teeth please read the label, as not all gums are sugar free. It is also great to use after a sweet treat to help neutralise plaque acid and remove debris from the biting surfaces of back teeth.