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Background: “Sugar attacks”

Article explaining what a 'sugar attack' is and why they are bad for our teeth.
cartoon image of a tooth and toothbrush

Links to activities: healthy oral hygiene and healthy diet: how much sugar is in your drinks.

A “sugar attack” to our teeth occurs when we consume sugary foods and drinks which contain free sugars.

  • Free sugars are those that are not already in the cellular structure of the food we consume.
  • They are added by the cook, consumer or manufacturer or are naturally present in honey, syrups and natural fruit juices.
  • The sugar naturally found in the cells of whole fruits, milk and unrefined carbohydrates (such as brown rice and whole wheat pastas) are not free sugars and they do not have the same detrimental effect on oral health.
Did you know? One teaspoon of sugar = 4g. The maximum recommended sugar intake per day for: 4 to 6yrs = 19g (5 tsp), 7 to 10yrs = 24g (6tsp), 11yrs+ = 30g (7 tsp). Free sugars should not exceed 5% of total dietary energy for adults and children.

The consequences of “sugar attacks” and poor oral hygiene contribute to tooth decay in children.

  • The bacteria in plaque use the sugars and make acid as a by-product. Over time the acid begins to dissolve the mineral from the outer surface of our teeth (the enamel).
  • As more enamel is dissolved by the acid, a hole (cavity) appears which can spread into the second layer of tooth (the dentine).
  • As the decay process continues, the cavity continues to grow and can irritate the nerve inside the tooth, causing pain.
  • If no dental treatment is given, the tooth decay may lead to an infection in the gum. This can make you very poorly with a swollen face or neck, and in extreme cases be life-threatening. One way to treat this infection is to remove the infected tooth. To avoid this, regularly see a dentist who can pick up on the early stages of tooth decay and provide treatment before any pain occurs.

Cartoon image of sugary 'junk' food with a cross, and fruit, water, 'healthy' food with a tick. Caption "Reduce the amount of foods and drinks that contain 'free' sugars. Swap sugary drinks for water or plain milk to prevent tooth decay."

Image taken from Public Health England “Health Matters”.

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