Sugar – Your Smile Wants You To Know The Truth

Posted on May 08, 2017 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

What is one of the most common diseases across the globe? Dental decay – thanks to sugar. And, Americans are the biggest consumers on earth.

As a matter of fact, when researchers from the University College London and the London School of Hygiene studied public health records from around the world, they found that sugar consumption in the U.S. was off the charts.

According to their findings, nearly 90 percent of America’s school age children have experienced tooth decay and 92% of adults have had cavities. To grasp the extent of our sugar problem, compare the U.S. statistics to Nigeria, a country with a diet very low in sugar, where only 2% of the population have had tooth decay.

Why is sugar such a problem for teeth? It is how it reacts in the mouth when saliva combines with oral bacteria. Although all food and beverage activate an acid surge in the mouth (as part of the digestive process), sugar super-charges oral bacteria. Combined with acid’s ability to soften tooth enamel for 20-30 minutes, you have a higher risk for tooth decay.

Oral bacteria are living, eating and breeding organisms. They thrive in colonies as they subsist on gum tissues and tooth enamel. As bacteria levels grow, the gums become inflamed. This is the initial stage of periodontal (gum) disease and the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss.

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends no more than 5% of daily caloric intake from sugar, or less than 25 grams, the average American consumes 82 grams daily. That translates into over 19 teaspoons of sugar per day and 66 pounds each year, per person.

What has led Americans to become so overloaded with sugar, and carbohydrates, in general? Consider that cheap, easy snacks and beverages are everywhere we turn. There is hardly a check-out line anywhere in the U.S. where you can’t reach out and add a candy bar or package of gum to the order.

In the U.S., sugar overload begins early. The television is saturated with youth-targeted commercials for sweet cereals, cookies and candy. School vending machines are stocked full of sugary drinks and snacks. Even daily vitamins have taken the form of sweetened ‘gummies.’

It’s easy to see the toll this is taking on our children. Childhood obesity is out of control. The Centers For Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that the U.S. percentage of children with obesity “has more than tripled since the 1970s. Today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity.”

With all the negatives surrounding sugar consumption, you’d think we Americans would be more determined to cut back. However, there is a good reason that our new year’s resolutions are so often broken when it comes to limiting its intake. Sugar is addictive.

In MRI scans, sugar is shown to activate the same regions of the brain as those activated by cocaine use. Like drug addiction, research has found that the more sugar you consume, the more you need since you develop a tolerance, which are symptoms of substance dependence.

Yet, like giving up cigarettes or drugs, people overcome addictions every day. With sugar, it is recommended that, rather than going ‘cold turkey,’ to switch to honey or agave (which are processed in the body more as food). When sugar is closer to the WHO’s recommended 5% mark of daily caloric intake, the pay off will be pleasing, to your waistline and your smile.

By reducing your intake of sugar and carbohydrates, you lower your potential for damage by oral bacteria. This will reduce your risk for cavities and gum disease when coupled with a thorough at-home routine of daily flossing, twice a day brushing and drinking plenty of water.

Limiting sugar in your diet will also save you money when considering the time and expense for dental treatment you’ll avoid! That may be the sweetest reason of all!

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