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Healthy Living Dentistry
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Does Sugar Cause Cavities?

February 20, 2022
Posted By: Healthy Living Dentistry
Woman drinking sugar soda in Orange County, CA

Dental caries, or tooth decay, affect millions of American adults and children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 57 percent of adolescents between 12-years-old and 19-years-old have had a cavity in their permanent (adult) teeth. One in four people between the ages of 20 and 64 currently have at least one cavity, and about 90 percent of adults aged 20 and older have had at least one cavity in their lifetimes. 

Untreated cavities are harmful to your oral health and can even affect your mouth's function and comfort. Cavities are all too common, but they are 100 percent preventable with excellent oral hygiene and routine visits to your dentist. 

At Healthy Living Dentistry in Foothill Ranch, we are here to help you maintain a healthy, cavity-free smile so you can enjoy the glow of excellent dental health. If you suspect you have a cavity or need to schedule your routine dental exam and cleaning, please get in touch with us today. 

Now, let's look at what causes cavities, how we can treat them, and how we can prevent them. 

What Is a Cavity?

A cavity––also known as tooth decay or dental caries––is a permanently damaged area in the tooth, or teeth, that form tiny holes or openings.

Common causes of cavities include:

  • Bacteria from plaque 
  • Snacking
  • Sugary drinks
  • Certain medications and medical conditions 
  • Poor oral hygiene 

A person may not even know they have a cavity until their dentist examines their mouth or until the cavity causes toothache, infection, or tooth loss. 

Other signs or symptoms of tooth decay are:

  • Spontaneous tooth pain 
  • Tooth sensitivity with hot or cold temperatures
  • Black, brown, or white spots on a tooth
  • Visible pits or holes in a tooth 

If you have any of these signs or symptoms, it's time to visit your dentist in Foothill Ranch for a preventive exam and teeth cleaning

How Do Cavities Form?

Cavities form from a buildup of plaque and bacteria in the mouth. Plaque is the biofilm that collects on teeth in a matter of hours after we eat. Typically, you can brush and floss away plaque. 

However, it can turn into tartar within 48 hours, which only a dental professional can remove using special instruments, such as a hand or ultrasonic scaler. Tartar is a hard substance, similar to cement or the mineral buildup that can form on plumbing or showerheads. 

Remember, plaque attacks! But if you stay on top of your oral hygiene and see your dentist for twice-yearly exams and cleanings, you're less likely to get cavities.

Sugar Is a Magnet for Harmful Bacteria

Many people ask us, "Are cavities caused by sugar?" Generally speaking, plaque causes cavities, but plaque can form from sugar and poor oral hygiene. Here's what you need to know about sugar and how to avoid tooth decay effectively. 

Certain foods and drinks cling to your teeth for an extended period, such as milk, honey, dried fruits, hard candies, mints, chips, and more. These foods slow the flow of saliva, which is essential for washing away food particles and acids. Sugary foods don't just include candies, cakes, and sweets; potatoes, bread, and pasta contain sugar, too. 

When you consume sugar, it interacts with plaque-based bacteria and produces acid. This acid slowly dissolves the enamel, creating holes or cavities in the teeth. When you're frequently snacking or sipping on sugary drinks, more bacteria will likely produce enamel-weakening acids that wear down the teeth and lead to cavities.

Other Reasons for Tooth Decay 

Everyone is at risk of developing a cavity, but certain habits and substances increase the risk of tooth decay. 

Tooth Location 

Tooth decay often develops on back teeth, as these have grooves, crannies, and pits where food particles can easily collect. Back teeth are often harder to keep clean at home, but your dentist or hygienist can easily clean them for you during routine checkups. 

Poor Oral Hygiene 

Brushing and flossing are essential for cleaning your teeth after consuming foods and drinks. Plaque is quick to form, thus jumpstarting the first stages of tooth decay. 

Lack of Fluoride

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps prevent cavities. Many public water supplies contain fluoride, and it's a common ingredient in toothpaste. 

Dry Mouth

Saliva production prevents decay by washing away plaque and food particles. If you have dry mouth from a medical condition, medication, or another reason, you may be more likely to develop cavities.

Worn Fillings or Restorations

Over time, a dental filling or restoration may become damaged or ill-fitting, and plaque can effortlessly build up on the natural tooth. 


Heartburn can cause stomach acid to travel up your esophagus and into your mouth, which can wear down the enamel, damage your teeth, and cause tooth decay. 

How Do You Treat a Cavity?

Cavity treatment is easy with the help of your Foothills Ranch dentist, Dr. Roy Kim, DDS. At Healthy Living Dentistry, we offer various treatments for tooth decay, such as fluoride, tooth-colored fillings, and dental crowns. More severe cases may require root canal treatment or tooth removal. 

How Do You Prevent Cavities?

Cavities are easy to prevent if you do the following:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice each day. 
  • Floss every day. 
  • Rinse your mouth with water or a fluoride rinse after eating and drinking. 
  • Eat tooth-healthy foods. 
  • Consider using fluoride. 
  • Ask about antibacterial mouth rinses.
  • Visit your dentist for regularly scheduled exams and cleanings. 

Though cavities are very common, they can be prevented and treated by your dental provider. Your dentist can also offer tips for preventing cavities and help you develop an effective and personalized oral hygiene plan to practice at home. 

Contact Your Dentist in Lake Forest, CA

Do you have a cavity, or do you want to learn how to prevent them from harming your smile?

Our team at Healthy Living Dentistry can assess your oral health, professionally clean your teeth, remove cavity-causing plaque, and offer treatment options to help you maintain a healthy smile. 

Please contact our Lake Forest dentist's office today at (949) 830-2003 to schedule your preventive exam and cleaning

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