tooth decay and food

Yes, your diet can cause tooth decay

Written by: WellCome Care Editorial Team

In a nutshell

  • Tooth decay, also known as dental caries, is the gradual process whereby bacteria in the oral cavity cause deterioration of the enamel, dentin, and the pulp of the tooth
  • Even though caries is a multifactorial disease, the type of food we eat, and how frequently we eat it has a significant role to play in its development
  • Frequent consumption of confectionary food and carbonated beverages are the leading cause of caries among children

Tooth decay is perhaps the most common mouth infections that we face. Streptococcus mutans, among other factors and bacteria of the mouth, causes destruction of the affected tooth, layer by layer.

Among the most prominent of these factors is the diet we consume, and how frequently we consume it.

Bacteria acts by breaking down sugars into acid, thus decreasing the pH of the oral cavity, and initiating the demineralization of the tooth.

DMFT is an index that determines the number of Decayed, Missing, and Filled Teeth in the mouth. Studies have shown that individuals who have a habit of actively snacking throughout the day, consuming high-sugar foods, and artificially flavoured drinks have a higher DMFT values.

Studies conducted in Japan showed that sugar was directly related to the development of caries when dietary sugar was increased from 0% to 10% of total daily energy intake among participant groups. The results remained the same even with people who were using fluoride supplements and toothpastes.

Another study showed that the prevalence of dental caries was much lower among individuals who consumed a vegetarian diet. This is because green vegetables are known to contain tannins and phytins, which are cariostatic by nature.

Smoking has also been linked to the development of tooth decay. According to a study, infants who were exposed to second-hand smoke showed an increased risk of developing carries in their deciduous (primary) teeth.

Following are some of the dietary habits that may contribute to tooth decay:

  • Consuming unhealthy amount of sugars and confectionary products on daily basis
  • Snacking between mealtimes
  • A carbohydrate-laden diet
  • Frequent consumption of carbonated/artificially sweetened beverages
  • Lack of fresh, natural produce in the diet
  • Smoking


Here are some of the dietary habits you can adopt to curb or prevent the development of caries:

  • Calculate your daily sugar intake levels and try to minimize it. According to the WHO, your sugar intake should be 5% or less of your daily calorie intake.
  • Ensure that all food groups are, within a healthy range, an equal constituent of your daily diet, instead of consuming more carbohydrates
  • Replace white sugar with FDA approved sugar-free substitutes such as Xylitol, which effectively reduces the risk of decay because it cannot be converted into acid by bacteria
  • Chew sugar-free Xylitol gums to induce production of saliva and it’s enzymes which help cleanse the mouth, and inhibit the growth of bacteria
  • Avoid snacking between meals. If you must snack, make sure you choose fresh fruit, vegetable, nuts or grains instead of chips, cookies, ice cream or candy
  • Consume more green vegetables on daily basis
  • Quit smoking, or use of any other tobacco-based products


Studies conducted in different parts of the world have shown that sugar and carbonated beverages are perhaps the worst when it comes to factors contributing to caries development.

The DMFT index of individuals who consume sugars in the form of snacks and drinks on regular basis remained consistently high than other study groups.


Carbohydrate-rich diets and sugary snacks are directly associated with bacterial tooth decay and should be avoided.


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