skip navigation
OPEN WIDE: Oral Health Training for Health Professionals

Module 1: Tooth Decay

1.4 Food Interactions with Streptococcus Mutans?

Foods containing carbohydrates, which include all sugars and cooked starches, interact with S. mutans, producing acids that can cause mineral loss from teeth.

  • Sucrose, which is highly concentrated in candy, cookies, cake, and sweetened beverages (for example, fruit drinks and soda), is a major contributor to tooth decay.
  • Fructose, the naturally occurring sugar contained in fruit, contributes to tooth decay, although fruit is more nutritious than candy, cookies, and cake.
  • Lactose, the sugar contained in milk, contributes to tooth decay, although milk is more nutritious than candy, cookies, and cake.
  • Starch, contained in processed foods such as bread, crackers, pasta, potato chips, pretzels, sweetened cereal, and French fries breaks down into simpler sugars. Processed foods containing starch produce as much acid in plaque as sucrose alone, but at a slower rate.

Frequent consumption of foods containing sugar increases the risk for tooth decay. Even very small amounts of these foods consumed frequently over the course of a day will create an acid environment lasting many hours.

Even though they contain sugar, healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, grain products (especially whole grain), and dairy products should not be avoided. Snacking is important for infants and children; because their stomachs are small, they need to eat small amounts frequently to meet their nutritional requirements. However, it is important to limit snacking on foods containing sugar, to offer snacks only at regular times between meals, and to develop good oral hygiene habits. (For more information on feeding and eating practices that reduce the risk for tooth decay, see Module 3, section 3.3.)

foods high in sugar

Foods containing sugar

healthy foods

Healthy snacks