Dental Health Week | How much sugar is hiding in your trolley?

Published on July 31, 2020
Dental Health Week | How much sugar is hiding in your trolley?

In line with Dental Health Week, we’re shining a light on just how much hidden sugar could be lurking in your everyday food and drink purchases. Discover how to spot hidden sugars and the best way to keep your teeth protected.

How Much Sugar is Hiding in Your Trolley?

We all know that sugar is bad for our teeth, but you may be surprised to learn just how much hidden sugar there can be in your everyday supermarket staples - even the ones that appear to be healthy, like fruit juices and breakfast cereals.

In line with the Australian Dental Association’s Dental Health Week (3rd - 9th August), we’re taking a look at the hidden sugary culprits in your shopping trolley, so you can make healthier food and drink choices that are better for your teeth.


What sugar does to your teeth

Every time we eat or drink sugar, certain bacteria that live on the surface of our teeth consume the sugar and turn it into acid. This acid remains on the surface of the teeth and pulls minerals out of the tooth, causing it to weaken

These repeated acid attacks cause mineral loss in the tooth’s enamel, stripping away the protection the tooth needs. Over time, this can destroy the enamel and result in a cavity, which is a hole in the tooth caused by tooth decay


How to spot hidden sugars!

While most of us think of sugar as the white powder we use when baking cakes or to sweeten our morning coffee, there are many different types of sugar, all of which can damage your teeth and result in tooth decay.

Knowing how to spot these hidden sugars can help you steer clear of sugar-laden foods and drinks, and keep on top of your recommended daily intake. As sugar can be referred to by more than 50 different names, it can be tricky to spot which products contain it.

Here are a few examples of the common names for sugar you might see on food labels:

  • Caramel
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Molasses
  • Sucrose

Natural vs. added sugar

Another area of confusion on food labels is the claim “no added sugar”. This doesn’t mean the product contains no sugar - in fact, foods with this label can still contain a lot of sugar. There is a difference between natural sugar and added sugar:

Natural sugar is the sugar that is naturally contained in whole, unprocessed foods and drinks, such as fruit, milk and plain (unflavoured) yoghurt.

Added sugar refers to sugar that is added to foods and drinks during processing, cooking, or before consuming. This includes maple syrup, coconut sugar, brown sugar, rice malt syrup, and sucrose (white sugar).

While both natural and added sugars can contribute to tooth decay, foods containing natural sugars tend to be a lot healthier than processed foods with added sugar.

For example, fruit and milk both have small amounts of natural sugars, but they also contain substances our body needs - like fibre, vitamins, minerals, and calcium (which can help to protect teeth and bones). Meanwhile, processed foods that have a lot of added sugar offer very little nutritional value.


How much sugar is too much?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the recommended daily sugar limit is six teaspoons. However, studies have shown that the average Australian consumes 14 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is contributing to an increase in conditions such as tooth decay.

Hidden sugars can cause your daily sugar intake to quickly increase - for example, did you know that a glass of juice and a bowl of cereal can exceed six teaspoons of sugar?

When reading food labels, it’s useful to know that one teaspoon is equal to four grams, so your daily limit is 24 grams. As a general guide, look at the value for sugar per 100 grams - if the number is more than 15g, it’s a good idea to limit your intake or find an alternative product with lower sugar content.


How to protect your teeth

Even if you’re being careful to limit your sugar intake, it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth against tooth decay. This includes:

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Visiting your dentist every six months for regular check-ups.
  • Limiting your sugar intake to no more than six teaspoons (24 grams) per day.
  • Cleaning between your teeth once a day with floss.

For more information, visit the Australian Dental Association’s Health Week page and be sure to book in with your dentist for regular check-ups to stay on track with your oral health.

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