We’ve all had times where you can feel your cravings taking over, and there would be nothing better than an ice cream, popsicle or a chocolate. With the summer heat warnings coming in, this summer looks to be no different. However, as you likely already know, sugar is not good for your teeth.
What Causes Cavities?
Sugar attracts bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus, bacteria that feed on sugar and form dental plaque on your teeth. This plaque, if not removed by saliva or brushing, turns the environment in your mouth more acidic. As the pH of this plaque drops below 5.5, the acidity begins to destroy the tooth’s enamel, eventually leading to cavities, permanently damaged areas on the surface of your teeth that develop into small holes. Cavities can increase tooth sensitivity, toothache, and lead to pain when eating or drinking. If left untreated, cavities can only get worse, and can potentially lead to infections. Additionally, when plaque hardens on your teeth, it turns into a yellow or brown-coloured tartar, which is strongly bonded to the tooth’s enamel and can only be removed by the dentist. This is why appointments with your dentist are so important, as they clean your teeth, removing plaque and enamel, and check your teeth for any cavities before it’s too late.
1. Eat other foods
Sometimes you just have to eat something sweet, we get it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should follow your cravings to the ice cream truck. Fruits are a great alternative to sweets. Fruits, especially berries, are naturally sweet, but are actually very low in sugar. Most fruits are also very low in fat, sodium and calories. Fruits also contain nutrients such as dietary fibre, vitamin C and potassium, which each bring their own health benefits. Dietary fibre helps lower blood cholesterol levels, which can lower the risk of health disease, while vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. Potassium is also very important for a balanced diet, helping maintain a healthy blood pressure. Eating fruits as an alternative to sweets can not only satisfy your sweet tooth, but also bring many health benefits on the side.
2. Get enough sleep
Not getting enough sleep has been seen to be correlated with an increase in sugar cravings.
The answer is ghrelin. Ghrelin is known as the “hunger” hormone, controlling your cravings for food, including sweets. Ghrelin levels increase before meals, making you hungry, and decrease after meals when you are full. However, ghrelin levels have been shown to increase as the amount of sleep you get decreases, meaning your sugar cravings will be stronger if you are not getting enough sleep.
The same goes for leptin, the hormone controlling how much you eat. Known as the “fullness” hormone, leptin acts oppositely to ghrelin. After we eat, leptin levels tend to increase, giving us the feeling of being full. However, studies have shown that as people that are sleep-deprived have lower levels of leptin, causing them to eat more.
For adults, it is recommended to get at least 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night. Getting less could potentially increase your cravings for sugar, making it more difficult to stay away from sweets such as candy and ice cream, especially with the warm summer weather.
3. Take a hot shower
This one may come as new to you, but taking hot showers helps deter sugar cravings. For this to work, the water should be hot, but not hot enough to burn you. Stay in the shower for at least 5 minutes and let the water run over your shoulders and back. Some experts believe that sugar cravings only last for about 3-5 minutes at a time, meaning the craving itself should be over by the time you step out of the shower. Additionally, the hot shower should give you a relaxed feeling when you step out, and the craving for sugar should be gone.
Everyone’s cravings are different, and what works for deterring somebody else’s sugar cravings may not be as effective for you. These are just some of the best known methods of fighting off sugar cravings, but there are many more methods that you can experiment with to find what is right for you.
- Avoiding stress – excess stress sometimes leads to emotional eating, also known as stress eating, which is usually a craving for certain foods, including sweets
- Eating healthy, balanced meals – eating enough food is a critical first step to countering your sugar cravings, as eating decreases ghrelin levels while increases leptin levels
- Drink lots of water – staying properly hydrated should help reduce sugar cravings, especially in the summer
- Getting exercise – exercise releases endorphins, chemicals in your brain that make you feel good, giving you the satisfaction that just might stop your cravings
- Take a walk outside – apart from exercise, taking a walk outside allows you to get some fresh air, which can be a good refresher for you
- Avoid artificial sweeteners – artificial sweeteners may trigger sugar cravings for some
How do I protect my teeth?
Sometimes you can’t help eating a chocolate or getting an ice cream cone. We get it. While it may be nearly impossible to completely stop eating sweets, there are several things you can do to help defend yourself.
- Clean your teeth properly afterwards. Immediately after eating or drinking something sugary, you should swish your mouth with water, washing away some of the sugar from the surface of your teeth. You should then wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth.
- Limit the frequency that you eat sweets. Your mouth is designed to balance out the pH. However, it can only handle these challenges so many times per day. It is suggested that if you must eat sweets, to eat them with your meal, as a dessert, rather than as snacks in between meals.
- Avoid sticky candies. These are much more damaging to your teeth than alternatives such as chocolate.
- Avoid acidic treats. Candies with added acids will only continue to make your mouth environment increasingly acidic, making cavities a greater threat.
Avoid Eating Sweets Right Before Going to Bed
Saliva is an integral part of the protection of your teeth, so eating sweets at a time where your mouth will likely be relatively dry elevates your risk of cavities. Your mouth tends to be dry as you are sleeping, so eating meals prior to going to bed is not recommended.
While there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself with some sweets once in a while, it is important to control the amount of sugar in your diet. Stopping your sweet tooth would greatly help the protection of your teeth, and when you do decide to indulge in sweets, make sure you are properly cleaning your teeth afterwards.
For more tips about fighting off those sugar cravings, or any concerns regarding teeth or gums, please feel free to contact us!
Dr. Hanan Taraf is an experienced dentist. Her first practice was in Morocco, where she was born and raised. In 2005, she came to Canada, studying at the Université de Montréal where she earned her Canadian DMD Degree, graduating in June of 2010. She’s never stopped learning, however; Dr. Taraf’s dedication to continuing education led her to take further studies so she could offer oral sedation to ensure even the most anxious patients are able to enjoy stress-free treatment. Dr. Taraf is also a graduate from the University of Toronto’s Mini Implant Residency with associate professor Dr. Mark Lin.