Can the sugar in fruit damage my teeth?

Most of us know by now that the added sugars in many foods have the potential to damage to the teeth and mouth. Even when they are hiding under the names of corn syrup, rice malt, sucrose or maltodextrin in our muesli bars, breakfast cereals and fruit flavoured yoghurt they still have the potential to cause havoc.

But what about the natural sugars in fresh, dried and juiced fruit?

We’re often told to eat more fruit, but are the natural sugars in fruit just as damaging to our teeth as the added sugars in other areas of our diet? And do all fruits cause the same amount of damage?

Before answering these questions let’s briefly first look at how sugar damages the teeth. We all have bacteria. A healthy balance of bacteria is normal, and can actually help keep our teeth, gums and tongue healthy. However, when we consume food containing sugars, some of these bacteria digest these sugars and transform them into acid. This acid attacks the teeth and can cause the tooth enamel to break down if not cleaned away correctly. Some signs that this is occurring include: sensitivity, discolouration, rounded or flattened teeth, transparency and cracking. The tricky thing is that there are not always symptoms, so that is why regularly checking the teeth is important, even if there is no pain or easily visible damage.

Therefore fruit, like other sugary foods, can also potentially cause damage to your teeth. However, some fruits are more harmful than others. Of fresh fruits, those which are acidic and high in sugar like oranges and pineapples pose the biggest threat to our teeth. A study about dental decay revealed that consuming citrus fruits more than twice a day was associated with 37 times greater odds of dental erosion, compared to those who consumed citrus fruits less often (1).

It is important to note that this does not mean that we should avoid fruit all together in an effort to curtail tooth erosion. Fruits contain important fibre, minerals and vitamins that are beneficial to our overall health. Rather it means we need to be educated about what types of fruit are the safest for our teeth and how to care for our teeth correctly when eating fruit.

Limit fruit juice and dried fruit consumption

Fruit juice and dried fruit have a much higher level of sugar in comparison to fresh fruit. In fruit juice this is due to the removal of fibre and in dried fruit due to the removal of water. For example, there are 12 grams of sugar in a medium orange, but a cup of orange juice can have up to 21 grams of sugar. A cup of grape juice has about as much sugar as 50 grapes (2.)

Whole apricots have 9.2g sugar per 100g whereas the dried version have 52.5g per 100g – that’s almost 6 times as much sugar!

Choose your fruit wisely

As already mentioned fruits that are high in sugar and acid like citrus and pineapple are the most harmful whereas fruit which is lower in sugar or higher in fibre is the least damaging. Fruits that fall into either of these lower risk categories include fresh berries, apples, mangoes and bananas.

Foster good dental habits

Keeping up your dental home care is key to preventing dental damage. Make sure you brush twice a day, floss once a day, limit snacking and sip water frequently to wash away any acid outbreaks. When consuming sugary or acidic food wait 20 minutes before brushing your teeth and instead take a sip of water straight after eating.

If you are concerned about the impact sugar consumption has on your teeth or would like to book a consultation with Dr. Kate Amos or Dr. Sam Rosehill call 6652 3185 or book online.

References
(1) V.K. Jarvinen, I.I. Rytomaa, O.P. Heinonen, 1991 Risk Factors in Dental Erosion, Journal of Dental Research
(2) C Roberts, 2017, Forget the Juice and Eat the Whole Fruit Instead, Consumer Reports

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