The Effects of Sugar on Tooth Health

To celebrate World Oral Health Day 2020, a recent study was conducted on worldwide tooth health. On an overall scale, the UK ranked an impressive 6th. Upon analysis, this high ranking is largely due to our many dental schools, as we rank in the bottom 10 for sugar consumption, which for the dentist-led Spotlight Oral Care team, is a big cause for concern. 

We explore how and why this is currently the case in the UK: 

Quno Medical Tooth Health Study

This article discusses:

    Negative Effects of High Sugar Consumption

    Despite the sugar tax introduced in 2018, sugar consumption has continued to rise in the UK. According to the NHS, consuming too much sugar can have two main adverse effects; weight gain and tooth decay.

    Tooth decay on the rise in the UK is the biggest worry of dentists and Spotlight founders, Lisa and Vanessa, as it has become one of the biggest problems in recent years. Over 50% of adults in the UK have one or more damaged or decayed teeth. Sugar causes the enamel on your teeth to break down. That says a lot about how powerful sugar is, as enamel is the hardest substance in the human body. It is even harder than bone!

    Where We Consume Sugar

    The UK’s main sugar sources are table sugar, soft drinks, fruit juice, condiments, breakfast cereals, and for adults, alcoholic drinks. The recommended daily sugar intake for each age group is:

    1. Aged 4-6 years = 19g (or 5 sugar cubes)
    2. Aged 7-10 years = 24g (or 6 sugar cubes)
    3. Aged 11+ years = 30g (or 7 sugar cubes)


    Sugary Snacks Comparison


    Ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, soy sauce, relish, brown sauce, sweet chilli sauce, the list goes on. In the UK, we absolutely love condiments, with Heinz even releasing bespoke ketchup filled chocolates for Valentine’s Day this year. Savoury foods are often not thought of as sugary, due to their taste. Though the hidden sugars inside condiments are what can be misleading. On average, 2tbsps of ketchup contains 8g of sugar, 2tbsps of BBQ sauce has 12g of sugar, and 2tbsps of teriyaki sauce has 14g of sugar.

    Condiment Sugar Comparison

    Fizzy Drinks

    The biggest offender is fizzy drinks. In one can of Coca Cola, there is 33g of sugar. That is more than the average recommended adult intake. Similarly, Fanta Orange contains 45g of sugar, which equates to 11 teaspoons of sugar, and in a 16 fl oz can of Redbull, there is a massive 49g of sugar, which is 19g over the adult recommendation. Fizzy drinks are big tooth decay contributors as they also contain acids inside them that erode tooth enamel. As dentists, we highly recommend avoiding fizzy drinks where possible. A study published in the medical journal Circulation found that sugary drinks contribute to an estimated loss of 1,300 lives a year in the UK alone.

    Fizzy Drinks Sugar Comparison


    The daily recommended sugar intake for adults is 30 grams, which is the amount of sugar in one bottle of red wine. Alcoholic drinks are often our biggest sugar contributors. A can of cider has a massive 23 grams of sugar, which is over four times the recommended intake.

    Alcohol Sugar Comparison

    How Does Sugar Cause Tooth Decay?

    So the question is, what does sugar do to your teeth that results in decay? If you understand exactly how this process occurs, it just may put you off that next can of coke.

    Our mouths are full of invisible bacteria, most of it being harmless bacteria. Though some of this mouth bacteria can be harmful if it comes in contact with sugar. This is due to it reacting with the added sugars in food and drinks and creating an acid that breaks down the enamel on your teeth. For this acid to break down the hardest substance in your body, it has to be extremely powerful. Luckily, our mouths were built to fight back and to heal the damage that this acid causes. Though if we are constantly feeding our mouths sugar, there is no opportunity for repair. Giving your mouth regular breaks from sugars is something we highly recommend in order to avoid tooth decay.

    Tips To Avoid Tooth Decay

      1. Fluoride Based Toothpaste
      2. Avoid The ‘No Added Sugar Option’
      3. Visit The Dentist Regularly

    Fluoride Based Toothpaste

    Choosing a fluoride based toothpaste can stop tooth decay. This is due to fluoride making the enamel on your teeth stronger. It is a mineral that can stop or reverse the effects of tooth decay if caught early. It’s functions are replacing lost tooth minerals and preventing mouth bacteria from making acid.

    Depending on where in the UK you live, there is a concentration of fluoride in your water supply. Though some water contains more than others. We also recommend regularly using a fluoride based toothpaste or decay dental floss with active fluoride.

    Avoid the ‘No Added Sugar’ Option

    In many cases, there is an alternative juice or drink option that exists on the market highlighting that they have less sugar than others. These products are where you see the terms ‘No Added Sugar’, ‘Sugar Free’ and ‘Unsweetened’. Though drinking no added sugar products is still very damaging to your teeth.

    The dentists at Spotlight Oral Care recommend avoiding both sugary snacks and drinks, along with the no added sugar options that are offered in shops. Both are harmful to your teeth.

    Visit The Dentist Regularly

    If you are ingesting a high volume of sugary drinks and food, we recommend paying slightly more regular visits to your dentist. Tooth decay turns into cavities if untreated, so it is important to ensure your teeth are being well looked after to avoid such an instance. <br />If tooth decay turns into a cavity and is left untreated, it can get very large and affect your teeth on a deeper and more long term basis. This can lead to infection, toothaches and in some severe cases, tooth loss. Regular teeth brushing, flossing and dental visits are key to clean teeth.