As we enter a new year, many of us will no doubt be looking at how we can live a healthier life. For some, this will include a better diet and finding new ways to beat cravings for the foods we love the most… which often contain a little too much sugar.

Sugar might be more affordable and accessible than ever before, but sadly, it’s just as bad for our health and the health of our mouth. Too much sugar too often causes tooth decay, a disease which is so common but almost totally preventable.  

To give you a little more motivation to kick the sugar in 2019, here is a list of facts and tips about tooth decay.

Ten facts about tooth decay

  • Dental decay is caused by the things we eat and drink. Consumables such as chocolate, sweets, fizzy drinks and fruit juices all generate plaque acids that gradually dissolve away the enamel and dentine of the tooth.

    • If plaque is allowed to build up, acid can begin to break down the surface of your tooth. This can cause holes known as cavities, as well as gum disease, and in severe cases abscesses and tooth loss.

    • Added and hidden sugars are commonly found in processed food and fruit, and are a threat to our teeth. The more sugar you consume, the likelier the chances of obtaining dental decay.

    • In the early stages of dental decay there are no symptoms, but your dental team can spot cavities in the early stages when they examine or x-ray your teeth.

    • The biting surfaces of the teeth and the surfaces between the teeth are most likely to decay. This is because food and plaque can become stuck in these areas. Any part of the tooth can be at risk.

      • Having frequent sugary snacks and drinks can increase the risk of decay, because your teeth come under constant attack and do not have time to recover.

      • Nearly three in four (74%) of British adults have had a tooth removed. This equates to more than 60 million people.

      • More than one in four (27%) only visit their dentist when they have a problem and around one in seven (14%) are frightened to visit the dentist. This can often lead to tooth decay going undiagnosed.

      • Public Health England (PHE) statistics (6th April 2018) found that a child in England has a rotten tooth removed in hospital every ten minutes, which is around 141 children a day.

      • The cost to the NHS of removing severely decayed teeth in under-18s has escalated over the last five years, from £27.3m to £36.2m.

      Five tips for preventing tooth decay

      • One of the best ways to prevent tooth decay is by brushing your teeth thoroughly before bedtime and at least one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste.

      • Make sure that you brush the inner, outer and biting surfaces of your teeth. Using ‘interdental' brushes, or dental floss or tape, also helps to remove plaque and food from between your teeth and where they meet the gums. These are areas an ordinary toothbrush can't reach.

      • Visit your dental team regularly, and take your children, as often as your dentist recommends. Your dental team is better equipped to spot problems before they develop into something more serious. This makes treatment quicker, easier, less invasive and less costly.

      • Try replacing sugar-containing foods with healthy and nutritious alternatives that are lower in sugar or even better sugar free. Avoid snacking between meals, to limit the number of times your teeth are under attack from acids.

      • Always check ingredients. Generally anything within a product with ‘ose' in the name is a sugar, for example: sucrose, maltose, fructose, glucose, lactose and dextrose. If any food or drink you pick up contain these ingredients, steer clear.

      Expert comment

      The Oral Health Foundation’s Dental Helpline receives in excess of 7,000 calls-a-year and takes a high number of calls about tooth decay.

      Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, said: “High levels of sugar consumption are a massive threat to our oral health, and dental decay is often the result.

      “The government has recently implemented a sugar levy on fizzy drinks, leading to some manufacturers changing the recipe of their products, but this is only a very small answer to a much bigger problem. A plan must be put in place to help address the dangerous levels of sugar consumed in the UK.

      “I recommend that everyone establishes a good oral hygiene routine, which consists of brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. This is essential, and we also urge you parents to supervise your children's brushing, to ensure they learn a good routine for life.

      “With regard to our children’s oral health, tooth decay is the number one reason for childhood hospital admissions in the UK and children regularly consuming too much sugar is a major cause of this. We urgently need to look at reducing childhood sugar intake. Much of this sugar is taken in the form of snacks and sugar containing drinks and fizzy drinks.

      “Try and limit your children's snacking to no more than two a day and replace unhealthy sugary snacks with healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables.

      "The fact that the costs of dealing with this problem have risen by a third in the last decade is completely unsustainable and by implementing effective education early enough the government can drastically reduce this cost and also prevent the pain and suffering of tens of thousands of children every year.”