Sugar and your teeth: Expert tips to stop the decay!

I write quite often about the various negatives of consuming too much sugar. The control it can have over you, the dangerous role it can have in dealing with your feelings and of course all the physical dangers that are associated with overconsumption (metabolic diseases, poor sleep, bad skin etc.).

One area I’ve not highlighted as much is the damage to your teeth; which is strange because trust me, I have suffered when it comes to my teeth thanks to my former love of all things sweet. It seems this is the one way sugar can continue to haunt you even after you’ve largely stopped eating it.

Dentist pain

Last time I was at the dentist I told her about my blog and business Happy Sugar Habits. I told her I help people eat less sugar and change their lifelong habits; and that I hardly eat ANY SUGAR now in comparison to what I used to. I was going for angel status. This was all in the desperate hope that somehow good karma was going to make her tell me I didn’t need anymore fillings (which didn’t work because I did – it turned out an old one needed replacing, damn).

Thanks to sugar, I have fillings, lots of them. I’ve had a root canal (I actually had to come home from travelling at 19 to have that one done) and now I’ve got one tooth that still needs something big and ugly doing to it this autumn (which I’m dreading).

I’ve wept in dentists chairs, spent a small fortune, been numb from injections countless times and am likely to be ever anxious when I have to have routine check ups. Yet for years I kept eating too much stick to the teeth style sugar, prioritising low fat and low calories over everything else. Why, I ask my younger self, WHY?!

This week, I’m pleased to introduce James Goolnik, one of the UK’s leading dental experts who has kindly written some hints and tips around sugar to help you minimise the damage and avoid unnecessary dentist drama. I hope it helps you avoid future costs and pain!

James Goolnik

What sugar does to your teeth (by James Goolnik)

What did you last put into your mouth? Not many of us stop and think of the possible effects foods and drinks have on our teeth. The enamel of your teeth is the hardest substance in your body but it can easily be worn away by drinks and foods. You only get one set of adult teeth and with some common sense, you can ensure they last your lifetime.

Everyone has bacteria in the mouth and some of these live off the sugary foods you give them, producing acid as a by product. It’s this acid that burns tiny holes in your teeth leading to cavities (tooth decay). It takes a healthy mouth about 30 minutes to neutralise this acid and during this time they’re having a party in your mouth. These bacteria love to be fed regularly, so if you sip a sugary drink or snack on sweets, the saliva in your mouth does not get a chance to neutralise this acid. It’s effectively the same thing as dipping your teeth in acid; they slowly dissolve.

With sugary or acidic snacks and drinks, it’s the frequency that’s the most important – strangely eating more over a short period is much better for your teeth than regular grazing or drinking. This isn’t an excuse to eat more, but it’s something to consider.

Acidic drinks are also a problem. The acid in these does not even need the bacteria and can cause direct ‘erosion’ of your teeth. Any carbonated drinks are a problem, even fizzy water. They can lead to your teeth getting transparent and becoming sensitive. To minimise the damage, drink them through a straw or have them with food.

How can I prevent tooth decay from sugar?

You need to become more aware of when and where you’re eating sugar, making an effort to reduce the amount and frequency you consume it (Laura’s Mentor Me Off Sugar programme is of course a way to do this!). Eating food and drink high in carbohydrates, particularly snacking between meals, will increase your risk of tooth decay. If you eat or drink something containing sugar, you can neutralise this acid by:

  • Having some sugar-free chewing gum
  • Using a fluoride mouthwash
  • Having a rinse out with water
  • Finishing on a savoury snack to neutralise the acid

If you want to brush your teeth, wait at least 30 minutes so you are not brushing in this acid.

About James

James is the principal dentist at the award winning Bow Lane Dental Group in London. You can download a FREE copy of the oral survival guide to make sure your teeth last a lifetime here. James recommends you see your dentist for an oral health assessment and work with them to help minimise the damage sugar can do.

A final note from me…

Reading James’s article, I recognise something that I used to do that probably didn’t help me. I used to eat a small portion of something sweet then I’d be ‘good’ and stop. However I wanted more and so 30 mins later I’d go back for a little bit more (that’s what sugar does doesn’t it!?). Maybe 2 hours later and I’d just have another few raisins or one more of those chocolates. This is the constant mental battle I often refer to around sugar, but as highlighted it’s also a killer in terms of sugar attacks on your teeth. Can anyone relate to this? Do you pop back for just a bit more? Do you swear everytime you go to the dentist that you’re going to eat less sugar?! Comment below and we can share war stories!

Sugar-free inspiration: meet Stephanie Fleming

It’s been an amazing experience in the last year finding something I believe in so strongly and being able to channel all my energy into it. When I meet others who share the same passions it’s really quite magical – all sorts of geeky sugar-free conversations ensue…

So I thought I’d introduce you to someone who’s behind the scenes at the moment, devising recipes and helping everything come together in time for January’s Mentor Me Off Sugar Detox. I couldn’t be without her; she’s an absolute star and a true inspiration.

Say hello to Stephanie Fleming…


Steph believes in the sugar-free movement and journey as much as I do. So much so that she took the action to e-mail me. We met up, talked activated nuts and I’m now proud to say she’s part of things here at Happy Sugar Habits. Proof in the pudding that if you simply take positive action, great things happen. I feel blessed that Steph came along, I really do.

Anyway, over to Steph…

What was it that brought sugar to your attention and what has been your journey over the last few months

I didn’t wake up one day and think all of a sudden ooooo I’m addicted to sugar- I must give it up. Not at all! I didn’t even realise. I just heard of a friend doing it (actually via Facebook) and read more about it and various testimonials. I had been advised to go on ‘elimination diets’ by my GP to try and find the cause of my IBS but had never really done it as I didn’t really think it would work and couldn’t for one minute imagine not eating fruit! It has been a running joke in my family (much to my Mums horror – she is French and eating ketchup with a meal is an insult!) and friends how much ketchup I used to eat and that I used to eat it with ice cream (I didn’t, but that was my reputation!).

Having read the testimonials and feeling like I could relate to a lot of these people I thought I’d give quitting sugar a go as I realised that I was eating so much sugar without realising it (although they were ‘good sugars’ I kept telling myself). Things like honey, syrups, ketchup, dried fruit, fresh fruit (3 to 5 pieces daily), low fat fruit yoghurts….and all that jazz (and sweets galore!). So my boyfriend and I embarked on a self-directed sugar-free experiment…which we’re still on and loving!

Quitting sugar was not easy, the first 2 to 5 weeks were pretty tough, we felt so lethargic, no energy at all and hungry and thirsty all the time, but we actually realised most of the time we were thirsty.

Family and friends’ reactions have definitely been one of the most interesting aspects of the journey. A common one which makes me laugh every time…. ‘So what can you actually eat?’, said with a look of horror on their face. “Er, EVERYTHING other than sugar” I say and then proceed to list all the delicious food and meals I get to make and eat.

What did you find the hardest part of changing things more permanently?

Sourcing some of the products you need, and buying them regularly. I have found that buying in bulk (pantry products) is the best bet in terms of convenience and price.

Getting family and friends to accept and respect your choices. After all, we accept people nipping out for a cigarette after a meal in a social event, surely they can grow to accept us foregoing the supersize me bucket of popcorn or giant coke next time you go to the cinema?

What have some of the health benefits been since you changed your sugar habits?

  • IBS symptoms almost gone!
  • Much better controlled sugar levels. I no longer have hunger pangs or feelings of dizziness and light headedness if I haven’t eaten for a few hours.
  • Not feeling ravenous between my next snack or meal.
  • Feeling satisfied after eating and not wanting/needing to eat more than needed and not ‘craving.’
  • Much more energy and NO afternoon slumps!
  • Reignited my taste buds. Everything tastes soooo good now!

(My boyfriend has lost just under a stone in weight by cutting out sugar from his diet in two months!)

You’re favourite sugar-free snack?

  • Definitely definitely activated almonds.
  • A slice of courgette cake spread with a layer of tahini or cream cheese (Steph’s courgette cake and activated almonds are both recipes you’ll get your hands on during the MMOS programme.)

What would you say to anyone reading this who feels like they’re really struggling with sugar at the moment?

Keep going, keep going! The first 5 weeks are hard – they really are, but know that you are NOT alone feeling like this and that everyone that is ‘sugar free’ or ‘no longer addicted to sugar’ has (most likely) had to go through that tough patch too…you can do it!

It definitely helps to be doing it with support; you can share the ups and the downs, recipe ideas, funny comments made by friends and relatives and know that you are helping yourself and someone else overcome the sugar hurdle!


I know Steph could talk as much as I do about this. If you’ve got a story to share or want to say hi then do get in touch with me. It makes my day hearing from some of you. Even if you just want to tell me you had one day where you halved the sugar in your tea. The other day I even had an e-mail from John Hicks, the station director at UK Health Radio. He felt an urge to tell me he slipped on a sugary slope and was self confessing his sins with a right little story! Sometimes it just feels good to acknowledge these things so that you can move on. Despite my sugar-free status, I’m really not judgemental, because I was well and truly there myself. I understand that everyone makes change when it’s right for them.

Any thoughts or confessions? What’s your sugar-free story to date? What do you think of Steph’s journey?

Mentor Me Off Sugar: Early bird ending THIS WEEK!

So you can take positive action today by letting myself, Steph and the others who’ve already enrolled support you!

The next Mentor Me Off Sugar Detox kicks off on the 6th Jan 2014. The Early Bird discount ends midnight on the 9th December (this Sunday!) so make sure you sign up before then and save some pennies for the new healthy ingredients we’ve carefully sourced for you as part of the plan. You’ll be munching your courgette cake and feeling part of the low sugar movement, just like Steph and I, before the Easter bunny arrives. Whoop whoop! Come join today!