Why are ‘added sugars’ so much worse?
Ingredients with natural sugars, like fruit, vegetables and dairy products are central to a healthy and balanced diet. The sugars present in these foods aren’t going to cause oral health issues when enjoyed in moderation, and when you maintain the fundamentals of good oral hygiene. When you have a good oral health routine - brushing and flossing twice a day, and visiting your dentist and hygienist - any oral bacteria present in the mouth shouldn’t result in a build-up of plaque.
It’s important to be aware, however, that foods with added sugars are generally far worse for your teeth than foods with natural sugars. This is because adding sugar to foods and ingredients increases the quantity of sugar making contact with your teeth. As a result, residue from your food will be more likely to feed oral bacteria, which causes plaque to develop.
What’s more, the sugars found in natural ingredients are generally balanced with liquids that help wash the sugar away. They’ll also be present with proteins that feed other, less harmful and beneficial bacteria, as well as fibre which encourages chewing. This in turn increases the production of saliva, which helps to flush away sugars and neutralise bacteria.
Added sugars are often highly processed and modified, making them stickier and more viscous than natural sugars. Take caramel, for example - a common ingredient in all kinds of sweet foods. Caramel is a sugar that has been processed into a polymer, making it even more likely to cling to the teeth and feed harmful oral bacteria, often up to several hours after eating or drinking. Such added sugars are also often separated from antioxidants in foods, which can help keep oral bacteria at bay.
Sometimes, foods and drinks that we consider ‘natural’ have actually been processed, and even have had sugar added to them to make them sweeter. Dried fruits and concentrated fruit juices are common culprits and should be enjoyed in moderation.