Dietitians Dish: Candy not only culprit of tooth decay

By Lisa Hagan
Oct. 23, 2012 at 5:23 a.m.

Lisa Hagan

Lisa Hagan

In the movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," little Willy Wonka set out to be a famous chocolatier when he discovered the sweet taste of Halloween candy.

Willy, the son of a dentist, disobeyed his father by eating candy after his father scolded him that candy would rot his teeth out.

Willy's father did have a point. Candy is one of the many culprits that can cause tooth decay. It is high in sugar and the stickiness of the sugar causes it to stay on our teeth, which rots the teeth over time.

However, candy is not the only culprit.

Other types of sugars that we consider healthy can also promote tooth decay, such as raisins or other foods that can be broken down into sugar.

The key is developing healthy dental habits that will protect our teeth for a lifetime.

Tooth decay develops when both mouth bacteria and sugar is present. Both have to be present. Tooth decay is caused by the acid by-product that is produced by bacterial growth in the mouth. When sugar is eaten, the mouth bacteria consume it, and form an acid as waste. The acid then erodes the tooth. This erosion is called demineralization.

Fortunately, waves of saliva wash and dilute the acid which then restores the tooth. This is called remineralization. This goes back and forth.

Over time the tooth will decay if there is more demineralization than remineralization.

Mouth bacteria work on sugar within the first 20 minutes of eating so it is important to remove the sugar from the teeth before mouth bacteria has a chance to get to them.

Ideally, brushing away the sugar and mouth bacteria is best, but there are other ideas that can be done to wash away these sugars.

If you are not able to brush your teeth, eat foods that can wash the teeth after each meal or snack. Cheese, fresh vegetables, and nuts will increase saliva production and wash away sugars.

Also, sugar can be washed away with water, unsweetened coffee or tea.

Never rinse your mouth with sodas, sport drinks or juices. In fact, these beverages are harmful to your teeth. After drinking these high sugar beverages remember to wash away the sugar.

Chewing a sugar-free gum after meals is a good idea, especially, if it is made with Xylitol. Studies have found that Xylitol will stimulate the saliva to wash the teeth, as well as weaken mouth bacteria so they do not thrive.

Also, do not forget to floss. It takes 24 hours for clumps of bacteria to form between the teeth. Daily flossing removes the clumps of bacteria.

So, this Halloween when your little Willie Wonka wants to enjoy a holiday treat, double up on the dental routine. Be sure to rinse out those sugars before the acid can take its effect on the teeth. Enjoy the holiday.

Lisa Hagan is a registered and licensed dietitian with DeTar Health Systems. Send questions or comments to



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