Sugar is in the news again with a US movie released May 14 called “Fed Up” which highlights the damaging effects that sugar has on our health. This month is also national smile month which aims to improve the oral health of the nation.
One of the objectives of national smile month is to educate people and encourage them to cut down the frequency of their sugary snacks and drinks.
Sugar in our diet is now thought to be one of the primary causes of heart disease and diabetes and is largely responsible for the rising levels of obesity in the western world. It is also the cause of tooth decay and common cause of tooth loss in both children and adults.
This is entirely preventable.
Tooth decay occurs when sugar is taken in by bacteria in the plaque in your mouth which produces an acid which then softens the enamel and dentine in your teeth. If this occurs only occasionally and you are brushing your teeth well with a toothpaste which contains fluoride then your teeth can recover from this. However, if this occurs multiple times throughout the day then tooth decay can develop which will require treatment from your dentist.
Many types of carbohydrates can cause tooth decay but refined sugar causes the most damage.
Some simple dietary advice to prevent tooth decay involves:
- Reducing total sugar intake
- Limiting sugar to meal times only
- Ideally mainly drink water or milk (especially in-between meals)
- Healthy snacks in-between meals
- High sugar content fizzy drinks or cordials have no place in a healthy diet should only be drunk very occasionally if at all
- If you do eat a sugary snack either brush your teeth or chew sugar free gum (to promote saliva production)
This is just some guidance which will not only help you maintain a healthy mouth but also a healthy body. Of course it is easier said than done. Sugar is addictive. We live in a world of convenience food where the majority of pre-prepared foods have added (hidden) sugar in it. So in reality we will probably not resolve this problem until the food manufacturers get on board and supply us with more healthier/ lower sugar alternatives.
Sugar is hidden in many foods and lots of the things you eat and drink daily may contain sugar and you don’t even realise it. Some people read ingredient lists of the food that they eat but a food or drink may be loaded with sugar and the word “sugar” might not even be present in the list of ingredients!
Sugar can be known by over 50 names for example, dextrose, fructose and sucrose are all sugars and the higher up the list of ingredients they are listed the higher the sugar content. Hidden sugars are often found in yogurts, cereal bars, and various types of juice along with many other pre-prepared foods.
As a dentist it is very sad to see children as young as three coming to see me with a totally preventable disease. National Smile Month should be supported so that we can spread the word about the dangers of sugar and the importance of looking after your teeth!