How Can Sugar Cause Tooth Decay?

dental patient smiling

Tooth decay is something of an inevitability, despite our best efforts to keep it at bay. Most of us will be told that we have decay developing or a dental cavity at some point during our lifetime, and treatment is necessary if we are to obtain relief from our symptoms and prolong the health of our affected tooth.

Tooth decay can be caused by a variety of different factors, but ultimately, one of the key contributors to dental cavitites is the sugar that we eat.

How does sugar cause tooth decay?

Tooth decay occurs when bacteria that is naturally-present in the mouth interacts with sugar in the food and drink that we consume. These bacteria live in a sticky-film called plaque that covers our teeth. While most people think that plaque is a problem it is in fact totally normal and to be expected.


The trouble is that when the bacteria present in plaque intermingle with the sugar in the food that we eat, acid, which is a by-product of this chemical reaction, can form. This acid is potent enough to erode the outer enamel on our teeth and cause tooth decay. If treatment is not sought fairly quickly, the damage can penetrate beyond the outermost layer of the tooth and start to affect the softer dentin and eventually the tooth root. When this happens, as well as experiencing painful and debilitating symptoms, the patient is at very real risk of losing their natural tooth.

Symptoms of tooth decay

There are a variety of different symptoms that could indicate that you are suffering from tooth decay and should seek an appointment with our dentist. These include:

- Tooth sensitivity, particularly when eating or drinking something hot, cold or sweet.

- Toothache. This can range from intermittent to constant pain, and from throbbing to acute agony. The toothache may be alleviated using over the counter pain relief but normally returns once the analgesic wears off.

- Pain when you bite down on something.

- A dark spot on your teeth.

- Visible holes or pits in your teeth.


Sometimes the affected tooth may become infected, causing swelling, further pain and pus or an abscess. This may need to be treated with antibiotics before further action can be taken.

Treating tooth decay

If you are suffering with tooth decay, our dentist will waste no time in speaking to you about the best way to go about treating your affected tooth. The sooner this happens the less overall damage will happen to your tooth. Firstly, the decayed area will need to be removed using a drill. Then there are several different types of treatment that may be recommended. The most common is a cavity filling which works by filling the hole with an artificial material. This prevents further bacteria from entering the space and restores the shape and size of the tooth.


The next most common treatment for tooth decay is a dental crown. This works by covering the affected tooth completely, encasing it inside so that no further damage can occur. Crowns are normally recommended for extensive decay where a cavity filling is insufficient. Other types of treatment may include root canal therapy, or in the event a tooth cannot be saved, a dental extraction.

Preventing tooth decay

While there is no guarantee that you won’t develop tooth decay at some point in the future, there are some things that you can do to help reduce the likelihood of it affecting you. Some of the best ways to help protect your teeth from decay include:


- Twice-daily brushing using a fluoride toothpaste and soft-bristled brush.

- Floss every day. This helps to remove bacteria and food debris from between your teeth.

- Rinse using a fluoride mouthwash.

- Cut back on the amount of sugar you consume.

- Limit snacking between meals.

- Visit our dentist regularly. He/she will be able to spot signs of decay early, before it has chance to progress.

If you would like to learn more about the relationship between sugar and tooth decay, or if you would like to arrange an appointment for us to assess the health and condition of your teeth, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly, knowledgeable team.