Understanding and Managing Sugar Cravings
If you’ve ever been told you have a sweet tooth, you’re not alone—many people struggle with sugar cravings. There’s actually a biological explanation for these cravings. When our ancestors survived on fewer resources, sugar was a vital source of energy. It also helped store fat, which could be life-saving when times got tough and food was scarce. As a result, our sugar cravings are actually hardwired in; when we eat sugar, our brains release dopamine, one of the “feel-good” chemicals. The resulting reward loop simply makes us want more.
While sugar was a vital resource for our ancestors, it was in short supply because it mostly came from natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables. Today, it’s much more abundant. You can definitely have too much of a good thing, though, and the very qualities that made sugar so vital to our ancestors can also harm your oral and overall health when you eat too much of it on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean that you have to completely turn your back on your sweet tooth. After all, we enjoy a little chocolate just as much as the next person! But you can protect your short- and long-term oral health by managing your sugar intake and developing healthy habits that will help you fight tooth decay and gum disease. Here are a few steps you can take to protect your oral health from your sweet tooth.
Replace sweet snacks with healthy snacks.
You don’t need to cut all sweet foods from your diet, but it is a good idea to limit them. When you’re craving something sweet, it’s actually a good rule of thumb to replace it with a healthy snack that contains natural rather than processed sugars. This includes fruits like apples, pears, and oranges as well as vegetables like carrots. You’ll still get a bit of the sweetness you’re craving, but in much lower amounts. Plus, crunchy fruits and vegetables like apples, carrots, and celery actually clean plaque off your teeth as you eat them and provide vitamins and minerals that are essential for your oral and overall health. This makes switching to healthier snacks beneficial on a number of levels. Instead of cutting your sugar down to your goal amount all at once, try weaning down; you’ll have an easier time making the change stick.
Learn more about hidden sources of sugar in your diet.
While desserts and candy are obvious sources of sugar, they’re not the only ones you need to look out for. In fact, a lot of processed foods contain added sugars. Condiments like ketchup and salad dressing have surprising amounts of sugar in them, while even normally healthy food like yogurt is often loaded with sugar to make it taste better. This is especially true of yogurt and other snacks that are marketed towards kids. Carbohydrates like bread, chips, and pasta quickly break down into simple sugars in your mouth. Since they tend to stick to your teeth, they’re more likely to hang around and act as a buffet for the bacteria in your mouth, making your teeth more vulnerable to decay.
Thankfully, the key to avoiding these hidden sources of sugar is simple! All you need to do is to learn about them and pay attention to the nutrition labels—including portion sizes—on the food you purchase. It takes a little work at first, but soon it’ll be automatic and you’ll know plenty of healthy options by heart! If you have kids, you can help them begin building healthy habits and avoid many sources of added sugars by packing their lunch yourself.
Drink water throughout the day.
The bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar, consuming it and producing acid as a byproduct. It’s this acid that eats through your tooth enamel over time, leading to cavities. When you drink sweet beverages like tea, coffee, or soda throughout the day, it keeps the acidity level in your mouth high and increases your risk of tooth decay. On the other hand, drinking water has a number of benefits for your oral health. Not only does it return the pH of your mouth to normal, but it flushes food debris from your mouth. If you’re drinking tap water, it also likely contains fluoride, which actively helps to fight decay and strengthen tooth enamel. Drinking water throughout the day is better for your teeth, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop drinking your favorite sweet drinks! Instead, try to drink them with a straw, which will decrease the drink’s contact with your teeth.
Keep up a thorough oral hygiene routine.
When it comes to preventing oral health issues like cavities and gum disease, perhaps the most important daily habit you can pick up is a thorough oral hygiene routine. This should include brushing your teeth and tongue at least twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and using mouthwash. Each of these steps is essential in a thorough daily routine because they each clean parts of your teeth that the other methods can’t reach. If you skip flossing, for example, you’re actually skipping cleaning the sides of your teeth altogether because the bristles of your toothbrush can’t reach them!
You can also improve your daily routine by making sure to use fluoridated toothpaste and choosing a mouthwash that fits your oral health needs, such as preventing cavities or gum disease. You might be surprised by just how much of a difference adding a thorough oral hygiene routine or using the right dental care products can make in your oral health!
Schedule regular checkups with your dentist.
Regular checkups with Dr. Tomasik are an essential part of preventing oral health issues and helping you take better care of your teeth. During a regular checkup at your family dentist, Dr. Tomasik screens for oral health issues like cavities and gum disease. Visiting your Lakeway dentist every six months ensures that he can catch and treat any issues that crop up early, before they become a major issue. He doesn’t just catch issues after the fact, though—regular dental appointments are preventive measures, too!
Your family dentist uses these appointments to clean buildups of plaque and tartar from your teeth, identify areas you may not be cleaning as well, and answer any questions you may have about your or your child’s oral health. He can also give you advice about how to better care for your or your kids’ teeth, such as which dental care products are best for you to use given your unique oral health. When you schedule these appointments in advance, you can even get your entire family in to see Dr. Tomasik in one day, making it easier to work them into your schedule.
Having a sweet tooth isn’t inherently bad—in fact, it’s actually very natural! If you build the right, healthy habits and stick to a healthy sugar intake, you can still enjoy sweet treats while protecting your oral health. If you feel like your habits have already affected your smile, however, it’s never too late to improve your oral health! To get started putting your oral health back on track, contact us at our Bee Cave, TX, dental office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Tomasik at any time!