Holiday sweet tooth has sour side

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: December 25th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

A sugar cookie shaped like a star. A handful of Grandma’s famous rumballs at the party. A piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream before bed. Enjoying a sugary sweet or two… or ten… is all part of the holiday fun.

But could the gingerbread man and the sugarplum fairy be conspiring to give you cavities? Research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center shows that some people’s genes put them at risk for falling for their seductive charms.

We call it a sweet tooth. Scientists call it the genetic code that keeps some people from rejecting a sugary snack. While many people can endure sweetness in foods or liquids only up to a certain point, others can keep upping the sugar ante.

And unfortunately, this love of all things sweet can lead to problems for your mouth.

When bacteria in the mouth meet the sugar from cookies or other treats, the combination produces an acid that can strip the minerals off tooth enamel. This leaves teeth vulnerable to cavities.

Research shows that sugar is most dangerous when it is refined and added to foods, such as candy or soda. The type of sugar in fruit or milk is less harmful to teeth.

Regardless of sugar’s source, dentists say proper oral care is key to keeping cavities at bay. Brushing and flossing teeth after eating sugary fare can prevent the buildup that causes cavities.

And after all, a healthy smile could be the best gift to give yourself.