can I get tooth decay if I don't eat sugar

How Can I Get Cavities if I Don’t Eat Sugar?

Do you ever find yourself wondering, “How can I get so many cavities if I’m not even eating sugar?” If so, you’re not alone. While sugar does increase your risk of tooth decay, it’s not the only reason why some people get cavities.


Here are some significant factors to consider when it comes to stopping the cycle of tooth decay.



What You Eat (Sugar or Not)


You might not be eating candy every day, but things like artificial sweeteners, starchy foods, and processed carbs can raise your risk of tooth decay. For example, if you’re eating a lot of crackers, macaroni and cheese, or potato chips throughout the day, you’re going to have more plaque on your teeth than if you were sticking to whole grains, fresh vegetables, and dairy products.


Frequency of exposure also has a lot to do with your cavity risk. Every time you’re eating or snacking, the food particles and plaque start to secrete acids for about a half an hour. If you’re getting multiple exposures at various points throughout the day, you’re at a higher risk of cavities compared to someone who is eating healthier foods on a less frequent basis.


If you’re hungry for a snack between meals, consider something like apples, sharp cheddar cheese, or whole grain crackers with hummus.



What You Drink


The liquids you put into your mouth are able to flow into practically every nook and cranny. Which is why people who have a high sugar (liquid) diet tend to get a lot more cavities than those who don’t.


Now you might be saying, “But I don’t drink anything with sugar in it.” Maybe that’s the case; you try to avoid soda, sweet tea, or even putting sugar in your tea. But do you drink diet soda? Juice? Sports drinks? Put creamer in your coffee? All of these liquids have some type of natural or artificial sweetener inside of them that can significantly raise your risk of getting cavities, even if you’re brushing and flossing well every day.


The best thing to drink for healthy teeth is tap water. Tap water has regulated fluoride levels and it naturally cleanses your mouth every time you sip on it. So, food particles and acid levels are rinsed away each time you take a drink. Rinsing with water between meals can also be helpful if you’re between brushing sessions.



How You Brush


Dental plaque contains cavity-causing bacteria that essentially etch away at your teeth. If it’s not removed thoroughly and on a regular basis, the outermost layer of your enamel will start to demineralize. Left alone even longer, the weak enamel will form a void or cavity, where the bacterial infection ruptures through your tooth structure. After that, it’s only a matter of time before the cavity works its way into the nerve.


Your toothbrushing patterns have a large role to play when it comes to plaque levels in your mouth. Plaque tends to be heaviest along the gumlines. When you brush, pay special attention to angle the bristles toward your gums to target these more cavity-prone areas.


The deep grooves and pits on your molars’ chewing surfaces are also prime areas for cavities to start. If your grooves are extremely deep, consider having sealants placed on top of them. The sealant will make brushing more effective so that debris or acids aren’t accidentally left behind.



If You’re Not Flossing


You can have the most expensive toothbrush in the world, brush three times a day, and still get cavities. How? By neglecting to clean between your teeth every day. Brushing doesn’t reach those spaces and most people simply don’t care to floss. In time, decay tends to develop between teeth where they touch one another.


Make it your goal to floss at least once a day. Otherwise, that’s about 40% of your smile’s surfaces that aren’t being cleaned.


If flossing is especially challenging, consider investing in a water flosser or trying different types of floss holders until you find one that works for you.


One of the reasons we take bitewing X-rays  on a periodic basis is to screen for cavities between teeth, where they’re not visible during a clinical exam.



Sugar Causes Tooth Demineralization


The very first stage of tooth decay is enamel demineralization. That’s when the outermost layer of your tooth is starting to decalcify and weaken, usually because of plaque buildup, inadequate oral hygiene, or diet choices.


Decalcified enamel tends to have a frosty white appearance. If you catch it early enough, you can stop the decalcification before it erodes enough that a physical hole (cavity) is created in your tooth. Unfortunately, the demineralized surface will continue to stand out from the enamel around it, unless your cosmetic dentist treats it for aesthetic reasons. But structurally it doesn’t require a filling or anything like that.


Demineralization is common along the gumlines, around braces, or anywhere plaque isn’t removed efficiently over an extended period of time.



Medications or Medical Treatment


Some individuals are at a higher risk of getting cavities because of secondary medical concerns. For instance, people undergoing cancer therapy tend to experience dry mouth and saliva reduction. This condition in and of itself (xerostomia) can significantly raise a person’s risk of getting cavities because of the lack of moisture in their mouth.


Medications that are in syrup form—like those given to children—or inhaled, such as those used for asthma, may also create a situation that’s prime for tooth decay.


Should you stop taking your medication? Not at all. But you can rinse with water after you take it, supplement with fluoride, and use dry mouth products such as mouth lubricants to help combat a dry, acidic environment.



What to do to Help


Professional Cleanings—Regular professional cleanings help you keep your teeth free of plaque and tartar buildup. But if there are areas where the buildup is thicker or you need to clean them more thoroughly, we can make you aware of those surfaces and discuss some techniques to help.


People with healthy teeth and gums do best with a dental cleaning every six months. But if you’re prone to chronic gum disease or decay, we may want to see you more frequently.


Investing in the Right Oral Hygiene Products—Your home care routine has a lot to do with your cavity risk. Maybe you eat an extremely healthy diet that’s sugar free, avoid processed foods, and you’re into everything natural. You can still get cavities if you’re not cleaning your teeth properly every day.


First, make sure you’re brushing with a soft toothbrush twice a day for two minutes each time. An electric toothbrush is even better; simply position it and allow it to do the work for you.


Floss daily to clean where your toothbrush doesn’t reach. Water flossers are an excellent choice for people who find traditional floss cumbersome to use.


Fluoride toothpaste is a must, as it holds anti-cavity properties to further decrease your chances of tooth decay.


Mouthwash doesn’t replace brushing or flossing, but it’s a great add-on to complement your plaque control. Ideally you want to choose one that contains fluoride. If you suffer from dry mouth, avoid mouth rinse that contains alcohol.


Using Fluoride—Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that’s found in everything from water and produce to fish and garden soil. Supplementing with fluoride at specific dosages can help to remineralize weak enamel and reduce your risk of getting cavities.


At home, consider rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash after you brush, just before you go to bed. If you’re especially “high risk”, our dentist can prescribe a more highly concentrated fluoride gel to brush with. The key is to use it after you’re finished eating and drinking for the day, allowing it to set on your teeth overnight.


And finally, a fluoride treatment after your dental cleaning is also extremely helpful. The type of fluoride we use is both ideal for weak enamel as well as sensitive teeth.


Regular Dental Exams—Early intervention is one of the most effective tools against cavities. When you schedule a checkup every six months, our Raleigh dentist is able to carefully monitor your oral health between visits to screen for any changes in your dental health.


If fluoride is applied early enough—and combined with improved oral hygiene—we can stop the decay process and remineralize weak teeth. But if a cavity has already developed, it’s best to intercept it as early as possible. A small filling placed in a tiny cavity today can help you avoid a root canal and crown several months from now. One is conservative in size and budget, while the other is a bit more of a monetary and time investment.



Reserve Your Checkup Today


Are you at a high risk for tooth decay? Do you think you have a cavity? Reserve a checkup at Raleigh Dental Arts today to reserve your next exam. We’ll help you stop the cycle of cavities to get your smile’s health back on track.




Tarun Agarwal

Dr. Tarun Agarwal, DDS is considered one of the top dentists in the country. He is a recognized speaker, author, and dental leader. He has been featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and News 14 Carolina. Dr. Agarwal has been awarded '40 under 40' Business Leaders by the Triangle Business Journal. He is regularly invited to teach other dentists around the world and recently built a training center within the practice dedicated to sharing his expertise. Most importantly he is a loving husband and dedicated father of three wonderful children. His biggest accolade was being voted 'Best Dad in the World' by 2 of his 3 kids.