Not All Sugars Are Sweet!

Not All Sugars Are Sweet!

Recently I have heard people declare “We don’t eat sugar in our house” – which is great I guess but which sugars are really bad for your teeth?

 The “I quit sugar” phenomenon has been great for helping people address the unbalanced consumption of processed sugars.  My concern is that many people seem to have forgotten that there are plenty of other sugars other than sucrose that pack a punch when it comes to oral health.

Tooth decay is caused by acid generating bacteria that feed on sugars in our diet.  These nasty bacteria use sugars as an energy source and the convert them to acid that then sits on our teeth until it’s washed away by water, neutralised by saliva or removed by a healthy ‘floss and brush’ regime.  If left on teeth acid can literally dissolve teeth.  The more often teeth are exposed to acid and the longer it sits on teeth the more damage it causes.

There are many sugars, but what’s important for oral health is whether the sugar is fermentable. Non-fermentable sugars cannot be digested by microbes and those nasty cavity-causing baddies.

So here’s the low-down on the main bad five sugars that feed the bacteria in our mouths; Sucrose, Fructose, Glucose, Lactose and Maltose.  You may be surprised to find that these sugars are in many “healthy” foods, as well as many unhealthy ones.  To help you know more about the main culprits here’s a little profile on each:


Sucrose – certainly the best-known sugar, is a refined sugar that can be made from sugar cane, sugar beets and maple trees.  It is a made up of glucose and fructose (two monosaccharide’s).  Sucrose is the main sugar found in most candy and is the sugar think of when they look to reduce consumption for health reasons.

Fructose – is the main sugar found in fruit, berries, melons, corn, and root vegetables such as beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes.  Most people don’t consider unprocessed fructose to be unhealthy, however, fructose is one of those fermentable sugars that feeds cavity causing bacteria in the mouth. And, when fructose it is processed and concentrated into a substance known as high fructose corn syrup, it becomes more harmful to your health than sucrose.

High fructose corn syrup has become almost a universal sweetener since it is cheaper, sweeter, and easier to blend into products because it is a liquid.  Next time you drink some fruit punch or soda pop, look at the ingredients, and you will most likely see high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient right after water.

Glucose – is an essential nutrient for human health, is commonly called “blood sugar” and is regulated by insulin.   Glucose can also be found in many of the foods we eat & drink like wine, cereals and grains, nuts and seeds.  Glucose is a single sugar (monosaccharide) usually found linked with other sugars such as with fructose to form sucrose.  However, glucose can be found itself in wines, dried fruit (Medjool dates have a super high content) and other foods and drinks.  Glucose is important but also has potential to be harmful to teeth.

Lactose – is known as the milk sugar.  It’s formed by two simple sugars galactose and glucose.  It is found in many dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.  Although lactose doesn’t even taste sweet is still a sugar and can be broken down by the bacteria on your teeth to produce acid. 

Maltose - found in grains such as bread, rice (and rice sugar), pasta, and cereal is also not sweet like we usually think of sugars.  Maltose is also found in drinks that are made from grains, like beer.  Beer not only contains sugar, but is also acidic enough to dissolve our teeth.

So, not all sugars are sweet and just because something, doesn’t taste sweet, it doesn’t mean it’s safe for your teeth. Lactose and maltose are found in foods that are very good for us.  These sugars don’t need to be avoided; it’s just important to practice good oral hygiene after eating them so that we minimize the harmful effects of these sugars on our teeth.

The most important thing to remember is that we need to have moderation in our diet and choose our sugars wisely. 

If you find yourself eating a lot of sugar, try rinsing out your mouth after eating.  This will do two things: it will help rinse away the sugar that is hanging around in your mouth and it will rinse away any acid that is already harming your teeth.