As we approach the end of May, we are almost halfway through National Smile Month - the longest running campaign from the Oral Health Foundation to promote good oral health. Even if you’ve not been following the campaign, you’ll be familiar with one of the three key messages; cutting down on the amount of high sugar food and drink, and how often you have them.

Why is sugar bad for our teeth?

Whilst we all like to enjoy the occasional sweet treat (yes, even Dentists!), excessive sugar intake is damaging for your oral health, and is still one of the primary causes for tooth decay in the UK. So how does sugar have such an impact on our teeth?

When we consume something sugary, the reaction of the naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth is to break down this sugar into acid. This acid then starts to attack your teeth, specifically the tooth enamel, which protects the heart of your teeth. Without strong tooth enamel, the more sensitive parts of your teeth, including dentine, are left exposed to the acid which starts to erode your teeth; the first stage of tooth decay. If this continues, it is extremely hard to reverse, causing cavities, tooth ache and frequently, fillings and tooth loss.

The impact of reducing sugar is not just limited to your oral health, but will also help lower the risk of other serious health issues, such as obesity and diabetes. With this in mind, here at Portman Dental Care, we’re passionate about championing sugar reduction this National Smile Month and how making just a few simple swaps every day can help you to limit your intake to boost your oral and physical health.

What swaps can you make?

Sparkling soft drinks and juices

With some fizzy drinks containing more than your recommended daily amount of sugar, opting for drinks with zero sugar alternatives such as stevia can be an effective way to cut down.

Though fruit juice is undoubtedly packed with more nutrients than a can of cola, it’s still high in sugar. Try limiting your fruit juice to a maximum of 150ml a day, or swap for sparkling water with fresh fruit slices or a squeeze of fruit juice for a refreshing low sugar alternative.

With any consumption of fizzy drinks and fruit juices, try to encourage your children to use an environmentally friendly straw – bamboo or paper work just as well as plastic.

Flavoured yoghurts

You might want to hold off on the flavoured yoghurts. Whilst even low-fat yoghurts may seem healthy in terms of reduced fat, they’re often packed full of sugar, with some popular vanilla-flavoured, fat free yoghurt containing 14g of sugar per portion!

Try swapping out flavoured varieties for plain greek yoghurt or skyr with fresh fruit. Although fruit contains sugar, it represents a better alternative to flavour your yoghurt without adding sugar and has more nutritional benefit. Plain greek yoghurt and skyr are also packed with filling protein for a more satisfying snack or dessert experience

Granola and cereal bars

They might seem like a healthy choice in the morning, but many granola and cereal bars are loaded with sugar.  Even natural sugars such as honey or maple syrup can contribute towards tooth decay, so check the ingredients before you assume it’s good for you.

For example, a leading brand of granola may be touted as wholegrain and high in fibre, but can contain 13g of sugar per portion. That equates to a third of your recommended daily allowance for added sugar. A great alternative in this instance is to try making your own granola without the additional sugar, or opt for a savoury breakfast snack instead.

Be sugar smart

Guidelines from the NHS suggest that the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sugar for a person over the age of 11 is 90 grams, approximately 20 teaspoons, with no more than a third of this to be from added sugar - rather than naturally occurring sugars like those in fruit and milk.

Even though many foods are packed full of hidden sugars it’s also important to consider the overall health benefits of the food you eat and to maintain a balanced diet too. Whilst a banana could have more sugar than a doughnut, fruit contains higher levels of essential fibre and vitamins, which are key for a balanced diet.

Of course, enjoying the occasional sweet treat is natural, but you can help keep a healthy smile by being sugar smart and ensuring that you brush your teeth twice a day and booking regular dental checkups with your local dentist.