In recent years, people have expressed a lot of concern about high fructose corn syrup. In particular, its presence in products, especially soda, has been blamed for rising obesity rates and associated problems such as diabetes and heart disease (though many scientists say this is nonsense, since the body responds basically the same way to sucrose and high fructose corn syrup). It’s also been blamed for increases in cavities in children in the US and around the world.
In response to all this negative attention for high fructose corn syrup (and rising sales of alternate versions with table sugar (sucrose) in them), soda manufacturers are releasing more versions of their products that are sweetened with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. But will this have an impact on tooth decay? Do oral bacteria respond to high fructose corn syrup the same way that they respond to sucrose?
Understanding the Difference
Sugars come in many forms. Fructose and sucrose differ because fructose is a monosaccharide, a simple sugar, while sucrose is a disaccharide, a complex sugar. There are three common kinds of simple sugars we commonly encounter in food: glucose (also called dextrose), fructose, and galactose. All these simple sugars are named after the source where they were originally discovered. Glucose was discovered in grain (note that it shares the same root as gluten). Fructose was originally discovered in fruit. Galactose was originally discovered in milk. Most foods contain a mixture of these sugars.
Sucrose is made up of two different sugars put together: glucose and fructose. This is part of the reason why many scientists dispute the concern about high fructose corn syrup, which is 55% fructose and 45% glucose, as opposed to a 50-50 blend.
But, no matter what scientists say about how the body metabolizes sucrose and corn syrup, the truth is that oral bacteria do process them differently.
How Oral Bacteria Respond to Fructose and Sucrose
Most of the oral bacteria found in people’s mouths today has become adapted to feeding on sugars. This hasn’t always been the case, but it is today (and has been for thousands of years). As a result, they are well able to feed on glucose, fructose, and even lactose. Not all bacteria can consume lactose–it’s probably more likely for oral bacteria to adapt to this food source in the mouths of mammals.
But there’s a difference when some oral bacteria, like Streptococcus mutans, are given sucrose. Sucrose gives these bacteria more energy because they not only get to break down the glucose and the fructose, they get to break the bond between them, which also releases energy. And with sucrose they can do something else–they can change it into a special sticky protein that they use to make their biofilms–what we commonly call plaque–which glues them to our teeth and protects them from saliva. In other words, no matter what the effects of high fructose corn syrup on the body, sucrose is probably worse for your teeth.
So if you have to have a soda, and you don’t notice the difference, choose the one with high fructose corn syrup if you are looking to minimize damage to your teeth.
A Dentist to Protect and Repair Your Teeth
Whether you’re consuming soda with sugar or with high fructose corn syrup, regular check-ups and professional cleanings are the way to make sure you are really protecting your teeth from damage. And if you do suffer tooth damage, reconstructive dentistry can help restore them to health, fitness, and beauty with tooth-colored fillings or dental crowns.
If you’re looking for a dentist in Philadelphia, please call (610) 272-0828 or email Dental Excellence of Blue Bell today for an appointment.