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Sugar Shock | The Devastating Impact on Your Quality of Life

Tooth decay, also known as dental caries, is a widespread problem that affects over 2.5 billion people worldwide, with a significant impact on various aspects of oral health. It is especially prevalent among individuals who are poor or marginalized, and it often starts in childhood, even before children begin school. In fact, tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, affecting over 621 million children globally. That is more than half of all children under 6 years old in most countries, and nearly all children in some countries.

Dental cavities can cause pain, impair oral functions, and impact emotional and social well-being. These affect fundamental aspects of oral health such as speaking, smiling, swallowing, and expressing emotions confidently. Moreover, dental cavities can have implications on academic performance, and work productivity, and result in direct and indirect costs for individuals and society, including loss of productivity.

Excessive sugar consumption is a prominent factor that significantly contributes to the development of dental caries. Recent research has shed light on the harmful impact of added sugars on oral health. It is crucial to understand the role of sugars in dental caries to effectively promote oral health and prevent tooth decay, aligning with the guidelines of the World Health Organization regarding sugar consumption.

Dental Caries and the Etiological Role of Sugars

The role of sugar in dental caries is well-established and influenced by two key factors:

  • Early life sugar exposure and
  • The high frequency of sugar consumption across all ages.

Research consistently shows that sugar intake during infancy and early childhood increases the risk of dental cavities. Early exposure to sucrose promotes the development of cariogenic microbiota, leading to future dental caries experiences and a preference for sugary foods. Moreover, it influences a child’s preference for sweets, leading to a preference for foods and drinks with added sugars over healthier options, contributing to future dental caries experiences.

The Impact of How You Consume Sugar | A Sticky Situation for Your Teeth

The effects of sugar on oral health are influenced by various factors, including the form of sugar consumed, frequency of consumption, and the amount consumed.

  • Sticky forms of sugar that remain in the mouth for longer periods of time, such as candies or confectioneries, can lower salivary flow and drop oral pH, increasing the risk of dental caries.
  • Frequent consumption of sugar extends the duration of teeth being exposed to sugar, contributing to dental issues.
  • Recent studies show a positive association between the amount of sugar consumed and the development of dental caries, indicating that higher sugar intake increases the risk of tooth decay in children and adults.

Sugars – Definition, Classification, and Types | From Nature to Table

Understanding sugars and their types are important because they play a vital role in our overall health and well-being. Sugars, also known as carbohydrates, are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. And they are a primary source of energy for our body. They are found in various foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. However, not all sugars are created equal, and knowing the differences between them can help us make informed decisions about our diet and lifestyle. Sugars can be broadly categorized into two types:

Intrinsic sugars

These are sugars that are naturally present within the cell structure of foods, such as fresh fruits. They are not added to the food and are considered less concerning for health. One of the unique characteristics of intrinsic sugars is their association with essential nutrients that promote oral health. Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and magnesium, which are important for overall oral health. In addition to the vitamins and minerals, they contain, foods rich in intrinsic sugars also tend to be high in dietary fibre.

Extrinsic Sugars

These are sugars that are found outside the cell structure of foods or added to foods. They can be further divided into two types:

Milk Sugars

Milk sugars, also known as lactose, are naturally occurring sugars found in milk and milk products like cheese and yogurt. They are accompanied by essential nutrients and are considered less harmful to dental health. Milk sugars, such as lactose, are unique in their association with essential nutrients that promote oral health. Milk is a rich source of calcium, a crucial mineral for strong teeth and bones. Calcium helps to fortify tooth enamel, the protective outer layer of teeth and aids in the remineralization process, which can reverse the early stages of tooth decay. Additionally, lactose in milk serves as a source of energy for saliva production, which helps to cleanse the mouth and neutralize harmful acids produced by bacteria, reducing the risk of dental cavities.

Non-milk Extrinsic Sugars

Non-milk extrinsic sugars, also known as added sugars or hidden sugars, are devoid of nutritional value and are added to foods by manufacturers, cooks, or consumers. They come in various forms, such as sucrose, fructose, glucose, and high-fructose corn syrup, and are commonly used in processed foods and beverages during manufacturing or preparation.

Unlike intrinsic sugars, non-milk extrinsic sugars lack nutritional benefits and can have detrimental effects on oral health when consumed excessively. They are often high in calories and lack fibre, vitamins, and minerals that are beneficial for oral health. Overconsumption of non-milk extrinsic sugars can contribute to weight gain, increase the risk of dental cavities, and negatively impact overall health. Evidence from reputable sources further supports these concerns.

WHO Guidelines on Sugar Intake

The WHO recommends limiting the consumption of free sugars, which include added sugars in food and beverages, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juices, to less than 10% of total energy intake. Furthermore, the WHO suggests reducing free sugar intake to less than 5% of total energy intake can yield additional health benefits.

These guidelines are applicable to both adults and children and are based on solid scientific evidence that links high sugar consumption to various health issues, such as obesity, dental problems, type 2 diabetes, and other non-communicable diseases.

Sugar Consumption in Australia

Sugar consumption patterns in Australia are a cause for concern, with significant amounts of sugar being consumed by both children and adults. According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and other reliable sources, showing that Australians of all ages consume high amounts of added sugars, posing a concern for public health. The Australian Health Survey revealed that both children (aged 2-18 years) and adults consumed an average of 60 grams of free sugars per day, equivalent to around 14 teaspoons of sugar, exceeding the recommended limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO) of less than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars for both children and adults.

Effects of Excessive Sugar Consumption | Links to Noncommunicable Disease

Noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and cancer, are leading causes of death, often occurring before the age of 70. Numerous scientific studies have established a robust association between excessive sugar consumption and health issues such as:

Obesity and Diabetes

Research has confirmed that eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain and obesity, which are known risk factors for various health problems. High sugar intake can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as it can cause elevated blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Diabetes, in turn, can increase the risk of gum disease, a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the gums and can lead to tooth loss if not treated.

Cardiovascular Disease

Consuming excessive amounts of sugar has been associated with cardiovascular disease. Diets high in added sugars can raise levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, and cause inflammation in the arteries, which can contribute to the development of heart disease.

Weaken Immune and Liver Health

Furthermore, there is compelling scientific evidence that indicates that sugar consumption can impair immune function, increase inflammation, and negatively impact liver health.

Relationship Between Sugar and Oral Health

When consumed in excess, sugar can have detrimental effects on oral health. Here are some key ways in which sugar can impact oral health:

Dental Cavities

Dental cavities, also known as tooth decay, result from the breakdown of sugars by mouth bacteria. These bacteria produce acids that erode tooth enamel, leading to cavity formation. High sugar intake, especially when consumed frequently and in large quantities, provides a food source for these bacteria, heightening the risk of cavities.

Gum Disease

High sugar intake can also contribute to the development of gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. Sugar promotes the growth of bacteria in the mouth, which can cause inflammation and infection of the gums. Over time, gum disease can lead to gum recession, bone loss, and even tooth loss.

Acidic Erosion

Sugar-containing foods and beverages, such as sodas, fruit juices, and candies, are often high in acidity. The combination of sugar and acid in these products can erode the tooth enamel, making the teeth more susceptible to cavities and sensitivity.

Dry Mouth

Sugar consumption can also contribute to dry mouth, a condition in which the mouth does not produce enough saliva to rinse away food particles and neutralize acids. A dry mouth can increase the risk of dental cavities, gum disease and other oral health issues.

Recommendations for Reducing Sugar Intake

Reducing sugar intake and maintaining optimal oral health go hand in hand. Here are some practical tips to help you reduce sugar consumption and take care of your oral health:

  1. Read food labels: Check the labels of packaged foods and beverages for hidden sugars. Sugar can be disguised under different names such as high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, maltose, dextrose, and more. Be aware of these hidden sugars and choose foods with lower sugar content.
  2. Limit sugary beverages: Soft drinks, fruit juices, energy drinks, and other sugary beverages are major sources of added sugars. Opt for water, unsweetened tea, or herbal tea instead
  3. Choose whole foods: Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats are naturally low in sugar and provide essential nutrients for overall health.
  4. Be mindful of snacks: Many snacks, such as cookies, candies, and pastries, are loaded with added sugars. Choose healthier options for snacks, such as fresh fruits, nuts, yogurt, or vegetables with hummus.
  5. Cook at home: Cooking at home allows you to have control over the ingredients and the amount of sugar in your meals. Experiment with recipes that use natural sweeteners such as fresh fruits or spices like cinnamon or vanilla instead of added sugars.
  6. Limit sugar in coffee and tea: Beverages like coffee and tea can also be significant sources of added sugars if you add sugar, syrup, or flavoured creamers. Try reducing or eliminating sugar from your coffee or tea, or opt for healthier alternatives like unsweetened almond milk or natural sweeteners like stevia or honey in moderation.
  7. Practice moderation with desserts: Desserts are often high in added sugars and should be consumed in moderation. Choose healthier dessert options like fresh fruits, dark chocolate, or homemade treats with reduced sugar content.
  8. Plan meals and snacks: Planning meals and snacks in advance can help you make healthier choices and avoid impulse purchases of sugary foods or beverages. Have a shopping list and stick to it, and avoid grocery shopping when hungry to prevent impulsive buying of sugary items.
  9. Educate yourself: Stay informed about the sugar content of different foods and beverages, and educate yourself about the recommended daily sugar intake from credible sources such as the World Health Organization or national health guidelines.
  10. Seek professional advice: If you are concerned about sugar intake or have health conditions like diabetes or obesity, consult a healthcare professional, registered dietitian, or nutritionist for personalized guidance.


Understanding the impact of sugar on oral health is crucial for maintaining a healthy smile and overall well-being. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, while also directly contributing to tooth decay and gum disease. By following WHO guidelines on sugar intake, making healthier choices, practising good oral care habits, and seeking regular dental check-ups, you can take ownership of your oral health and reduce the risk of associated health problems.

Are you ready to take charge of your dental health and ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles? By prioritizing preventive measures, making informed choices, and reducing your sugar intake, you can enjoy a healthy and confident smile for years to come. Let’s start taking the first step towards optimal dental health today!

Reference List

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018). Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Added Sugars. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/australian-health-survey-consumption-added-sugars/latest-release

Australian Dental Association. (2017). Sugar Consumption and Oral Health. Retrieved from https://www.ada.org.au/getattachment/Your-Dental-Health/Resources-for-Professionals/Resources-for-Teachers-Parents/Dental-Health-Week-2017/2017-DHW-Sugar-and-Oral-Health-(1).pdf.aspx

Barrington G, Khan S, Kent K, Brennan DS, Crocombe LA, Bettiol S. Obesity, dietary sugar and dental caries in Australian adults. Int Dent J. 2019 Oct;69(5):383-391. doi: 10.1111/idj.12480. Epub 2019 Jun 3. PMID: 31157414; PMCID: PMC9379056.

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Imamura, F., O’Connor, L., Ye, Z., Mursu, J., Hayashino, Y., Bhupathiraju, S. N., & Forouhi, N. G. (2015). Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes: systematic review, meta-analysis, and estimation of population attributable fraction. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(15), 939-944.

Johnson, R. K., Appel, L. J., Brands, M., Howard, B. V., Lefevre, M., Lustig, R. H., Sacks, F., & Steffen, L. M. (2009). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 120(11), 1011-1020.

Malik, V. S., Popkin, B. M., Bray, G. A., Després, J. P., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2010). Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care, 33(11), 2477-2483.

Moynihan, P., & Petersen, P. E. (2004). Diet, nutrition and the prevention of dental diseases. Public Health Nutrition, 7(1A), 201-226.

Sanchez-Lozada, L. G., Le, M., Segal, M., Johnson, R. J., & Johnson, R. J. (2010). How safe is fructose for persons with or without diabetes? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(6), 154

World Health Organization. (2015). Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/149782/9789241549028_eng.pdf