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Charge Up for Good Health

Are honey and agave syrup just as bad for my teeth as regular sugar?

Are honey and agave syrup just as bad for my teeth as regular sugar?

As a dentist, I’m sweet on using honey or agave. You know bees make honey, but agave actually comes from a plant that looks like a cactus. The Egyptians used it to reduce inflammation, and they were on to something: It might help prevent swollen and puffy gums.

But I have an even better reason to switch from a spoonful of sugar to a squirt of honey or agave: These other sweeteners contain more complex carbohydrates, so they break down more slowly and are less likely to cause problems in your mouth. Here’s what happens: After you eat any kind of sugar, molecules start to adhere to your teeth, and cavity-causing bacteria sticks to the sugar molecules. The bacteria use the sugar as food; when they’re done, they create waste called lactic acid, which weakens tooth enamel. It’s some nasty stuff.

If you rinse your mouth or brush your teeth right after eating regular sugar, you can wash away these troublemakers before they cause damage. But who wants to jump up from the table? Since honey and agave take longer to break down, you don’t have to be in as much of a hurry to brush -- though you should do it at your first opportunity. In fact, honey and agave are great sugar substitutes when dissolved into any drink or baked into dessert. Just avoid squirting them directly on things like pancakes, for instance, because the food will make them to stick to your teeth and result in the same problems caused by regular sugar.

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