Sugar & Nutrition

Everything you eat and drink can have a major effect on the health of your teeth and gums.
Tooth decay is a diet-related disease that commonly develops in response to our consumption of sugar. Sugar from the foods and drinks we consume is taken up by decay-causing bacteria that live on the surfaces of our teeth. These bacteria process the sugar, turning it into acid which is then excreted on the surface of our teeth where it draws out minerals from the tooth. If this process happens over and over, without any effort to prevent or stop the disease process, it can eventually result in the formation of tooth decay.

Here are some top pro tips for reducing your sugar consumption to help prevent tooth decay.

Drink lots of water 

Water is the best choice for your teeth. It is good for you, it is sugar free and in most areas in Australian it contains fluoride. Drinking fluoridated tap water is one of the most cost-effective ways to try to prevent tooth decay.

Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and even fruit juices are packed with sugar. These drinks provide no nutritional content and increase your risk of developing tooth decay as well as a range of other health conditions like Type 2 diabetes. Even the sugar-free varieties can cause damage to your teeth as these drinks have a low pH, making them acidic, which can cause the tooth’s surface to soften and become worn.

How much is too much?

Did you know that one 600ml bottle of soft drink, on average, contains 16 teaspoons of sugar? This is over twice the recommended daily sugar intake for adults.
The World Health Organization recommends that adult sugar intake be equal to 5% of your daily total energy intake (kJ) to decrease your risk of developing tooth decay as well as other health benefits. For the average adult, this equates to 6 teaspoons (equal to 24 grams) of free sugar per day.

Calculating sugar consumption based on 5% of total energy intake:
Kilojoules are the measurement of energy from foods and drinks used in Australia. In some countries, calories are still used as the unit of measure. For reference, 8360kJ = 2000Kcal.

 5% of 8700kJ 

0.05 x 8700kJ = 435kJ

                                435kJ                                                   = 6.3 teaspoons of sugar per day
68kJ (approximate kilojoules in 1 teaspoon of sugar)

Note: The kJ value of 8700kJ in the above equation is the average adult daily intake. If you would like to know more about what is right for you and your health, talk to doctor or dietician.

You will see the term free sugar used above. Here are various descriptors used for sugar:
Added sugar – sugar added to food and drink products during processing, manufacturing or at the time of consumption, such as adding sugar to your tea or coffee or sprinkling it over your breakfast cereal.
Free sugar – this includes added sugars, as well as the sugar naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juice and fruit juice concentrate.
Natural sugar – sugar that is part of the natural structure of food products, including vegetables, fruits (fructose) and dairy (lactose).

To know how much sugar is in the foods and drinks you purchase, it is best to read the Nutrition Information Panel located on the food label to make a healthy choice.


Reading the label 

When reading the food or drink label, the information you need to make a healthy choice is on the Nutrition Information Panel on the back or side of the product. 

When deciding between products based on their sugar content, look at the amount of sugar per 100 grams (g). This will allow you to compare ‘apples with apples.’ If you use the sugar per serve value, you may be comparing ‘apples with oranges’ instead.

It is best to look for foods with 5g or less sugar per 100g. Between 5g and 10g is okay also. If a product has over 15g of sugar per 100g, it may be best to find a healthier alternative. 

Not all products will advise the amount of added sugars present as a value on the label. To check for added sugars, it is best to read the list of ingredients, which are usually found at the base of the label. The higher an ingredient is to the top of the list, the more of it is present within the item.

Did you know that sugar can go by over 50 names? This can make it tricky identifying all the sources of sugar in a food product. It is not just the obvious foods such as lollies and cakes that include sugar. Look out for hidden sugars in foods such as cereals and sauces.

Grams to teaspoons

You will often health sugar content measured by ‘number of teaspoons.’ This unit of measure can often make it easier to understand sugar content by relating it to spoonfuls of sugar. To know how many teaspoons make up a quantity of sugar, divide the amount of sugar by 4.

1 teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams
So, if a drink label states that contains 20g of sugar, this means it is equal to 5 teaspoons’ worth of sugar.
Example:       20g sugar         = 5 teaspoons of sugar
                 4g per teaspoon


Gum anyone? 

Chewing sugar-free gum may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re thinking about habits that can benefit your teeth. But studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating can prompt your mouth to produce more saliva, which helps neutralise decay-causing acid attacks.