We’ve waged war for decades against tooth decay through oral hygiene and the increasing use of fluoride, nature’s “super weapon” against this disease. And yet, tooth decay remains a significant health problem.
One major reason is refined sugar found in many processed foods. In the 1970s researchers raised concerns about the fat content of many processed foods, so manufacturers began removing fat from their products — along with much of the flavor. To compensate, they added sugar. Today, three-quarters of approximately 600,000 food products contain sugar.
This has increased average individual consumption to 90 pounds of sugar annually. The World Health Organization says we should consume no more than 20 pounds annually, or about 6 teaspoons a day. A single can of soda contains 4 teaspoons, two-thirds of the daily allowance.
High sugar consumption is an obvious threat to dental health: decay-causing bacteria thrive on it. But the trend has also been linked to serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Hopefully, changes in public policy will one day modify the addition of sugar in processed foods. In the meantime, you can take action for yourself and your family to create a more healthy relationship with this popular carbohydrate.
Shop wisely. Learn to read and understand food labels: steer clear of those containing sugar or large numbers of ingredients. Become acquainted with sugar’s many other “names” like corn syrup or evaporated cane juice. And maximize your shopping on a store’s outer perimeters where you’ll find fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products, rather than the middle aisles with “boxed” processed items.
Avoid sugar-added drinks. Limit consumption of sodas, sports drinks, sweet teas or even juice to avoid added sugar. Make water or sugar-free beverages your go-to drinks. It’s much better to eat sugar naturally found in fresh fruits and vegetables, where fiber helps slow it’s absorption in the body, than to drink it.
Exercise. Depending on your condition, physical exertion is good for your overall health. It’s especially beneficial for your body’s ability to metabolize sugar. So with your doctor’s advice, exert your body every day.
It’s important to engender a proper relationship with sugar — a little can go a long way. Putting sugar in its rightful place can help you avoid tooth decay and increase your chances of greater overall health.
If you would like more information on sugar’s impact on dental and general health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
Tooth decay doesn't appear out of nowhere. It begins with bacteria, which produce acid that softens and erodes tooth enamel. Without adequate enamel protection, cavities can develop.
So, one of our prevention goals is to decrease populations of disease-causing bacteria. One way is to deprive them of carbohydrates, a prime food source, most notably refined sugar. That's why for decades dentists have instructed patients to limit their intake of sugar, especially between meal snacks.
Ironically, we're now consuming more rather than less sugar from a generation ago. The higher consumption impacts more than dental health — it's believed to be a contributing factor in many health problems, especially in children. Thirty years ago it was nearly impossible to find a child in the U.S. with type 2 diabetes: today, there are over 50,000 documented juvenile cases.
Cutting back isn't easy. For one thing, we're hard-wired for sweet-tasting foods. Our ancestors trusted such foods when there was limited food safety knowledge. Most of us today still have our "sweet tooth."
There's also another factor: the processed food industry. When food researchers concluded fats were a health hazard the government changed dietary guidelines. Food processors faced a problem because they used fats as a flavor enhancer. To restore flavor they began adding small amounts of sugar to foods like lunch meat, bread, tomato sauce and peanut butter. Today, three-quarters of the 600,000 available processed food items contain some form of added sugar.
Although difficult given your available supermarket choices, limiting your sugar intake to the recommended 6 teaspoons a day will reduce your risk for dental and some general diseases. There are things you can do: replace processed foods with more fresh fruits and vegetables; read food labels for sugar content to make better purchasing decisions; drink water for hydration rather than soda (which can contain two-thirds of your daily recommended sugar allowance), sports drinks or juices; and exercise regularly.
Keeping your sugar consumption under control will help you reduce the risk of tooth decay. You'll be helping your overall health too.
If you would like more information on the effect of sugar on health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Bitter Truth about Sugar.”