Sugar Not So Sweet

added on: September 30, 2015

One of the most common diseases on a world-wide scale is tooth decay. Surprised? As an American, you may want to pay particular attention to the following research findings.

Researchers from the University College London and the London School of Hygiene studied public health records from around the world. Something that stood out in their research was that the United States is too full of sugar.

They found that nearly 90% of school age children in the U.S. have experienced tooth decay and 92% of American adults have had cavities. To understand the sugar problem that America has is to look at a country with a diet very low in sugar, such as Nigeria, with a mere 2% of the population experiencing tooth decay.

What causes sugar to be a particular problem when it comes to your teeth is how it reacts in the mouth. When sugar-laden foods are eaten, the sugar combines with saliva and oral bacteria. Even though every food or beverage (other than water) triggers an acid attack in the mouth, sugar super-charges oral bacteria, allowing tooth decay to begin easily.

Oral bacteria eat, reproduce and live in colonies as they eat away at oral gum tissue and attack tooth enamel. This overload of bacteria causes the gums become inflamed and is the beginning stage of periodontal (gum) disease – the nation’s leading cause of tooth loss.

It’s no wonder that Americans are overloaded with sugar, and carbohydrates, in general. It’s nearly impossible these days to stand in a check-out line without something sweet staring at you. And it starts early. Our schools are stocked full of vending machines filled with sugary sodas and snacks. With all this sugar at arm’s reach at a low price, the temptation is hard to resist. Yet, it may be more than temptation that’s keeping our cravings, and hence consumption, of sugar at a seemingly uncontrollable level.

The World Health Organization recommends no more than 5% of daily caloric intake from sugar. However, with the easy access of cheap, convenient sugar, the good intentions we have in keeping many new year’s resolutions seem unusually difficult. Why?

Simply put, sugar is addictive. As a matter of fact, MRI scans have shown that sugar activates the same brain regions as are activated from cocaine use. To make matters worse, research has found that the more sugar you consume, the more you need since you develop a tolerance. Like drug addiction, these reactions are symptoms of substance dependence.

Reducing sugar intake to the 5% recommended level can be achieved. However, success is more likely when you wean yourself off of sugar rather than try a ‘cold turkey’ approach. Substituting honey (which is processed in the body like a food) can help you get over the hump, which may take several months. However, once your system is cleansed, you’ll be doing your smile – and overall health – an enormous favor.

When sugar is a minimal part of one’s diet, the damage potential by oral bacteria is reduced. Your risk for cavities and gum disease decreases and your breath will be easier to keep fresh. A healthy, low sugar diet coupled with a thorough at-home routine of daily flossing, twice a day brushing and drinking plenty of water will protect teeth and gums. Be sure to keep your 6-month dental cleanings and check-ups so we can remove any build-up that has occurred between visits. These appointments are designed to reduce your risks, as well.

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Dr. Ban R. Barbat

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