It’s nearly impossible to walk through a store in October and not see gigantic bags of Halloween candy for sale. Even Home Depot has a display.
As Mom to two sons, I understand the dilemma that parents have today in helping kids to manage their sugar intake without having them feel a bit slighted. Imagine having a Mom who is a dentist!
No parent wants to be the “bad guy” who is constraining the enjoyment of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Unfortunately, your dentist is a witness to what sugar can do to a youngster’s mouth as well as that of adults.
For a really SCARY Halloween statistic, State Food Safety reports that the average child consumes about 3 cups of sugar, which equates to about 144 teaspoons. And, it’s not just children on Halloween who are over-indulging on sugar. Adults aren’t much better at limiting sugar intake on any given day.
Most Americans eat well over twice the amount of recommended sugar per day. The average adult consumes about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, with the average child downing about 32 teaspoons of added sugar a day.
For female adults, the recommendation is to consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day. Males should keep it to under 9 teaspoons (about 150 calories). That number is reached with 3 – 4 fun size candy bars or one 12 oz. can of soda.
And, the scary stats continue. Using public health records from around the world, researchers from the University College London and the London School of Hygiene noted that the United States is in overload when it comes to sugar, on a global basis. They found that nearly 90 percent of school age children in the U.S. have experienced tooth decay and 92 percent of American adults have had cavities.
Comparatively, a country with a diet very low in sugar, Nigeria, has a mere 2 percent of the population experiencing tooth decay.
What causes sugar to be a particular problem when it comes to 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 its process.
Oral bacteria eat, reproduce and live in colonies in the mouth, which attack oral gum tissues and tooth enamel. These masses of bacteria cause the gums to become inflamed, which is the beginning of periodontal (gum) disease – the nation’s leading cause of tooth loss.
Unfortunately, sugar consumption in the U.S. has become rather difficult to overcome, not just because we love the taste. After frequent consumption, the body becomes dependent on the energy boost it temporarily creates. In reality, it becomes an addiction.
Studies have suggested that sugar is as addictive as cocaine by triggering a release of dopamine. Sugar releases endorphins and combines with other chemicals in the body, resulting in a surge of energy. Once the brain connects sugar with providing energy, an individual can become dependent on it.
In addition to obesity and diabetes, sugar addiction can also have long-term health effects. These include compulsions or behavioral addictions, anxiety, and stress.
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.
When sugar is within the recommended range (as advised by the CDC), the damage potential by oral bacteria is reduced. The risk for cavities and gum disease decreases and your breath will be fresher. 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.
It’s also important – for you and your child(ren) – to maintain twice-a-year dental cleanings and check-ups. During these visits, our hygienists can remove bacterial build-up that has occurred between visits. This halts the progress of damage from oral bacteria and helps to reduce the risks for periodontal disease as well as cavities.
When it comes to our children, however, limiting sugar intake can be challenging. Certainly though, no parent wants their child to develop a cavity. Even a ‘baby’ tooth will require cavity repair to prevent worsening pain and to help the tooth hold its position for permanent teeth to emerge properly.
According to the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention (CDC):
• 20 percent of children aged 5 – 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
• 13 percent of adolescents aged 12 – 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
Between visits, however, help your entire family to tackle the challenges of excess sugar. Follow these tips to help minimize the risks of gum disease and cavities:
• Twice-daily brushing and daily flossing
• Dental checkups and cleanings every six months
• Fluoride treatments and/or sealants as advised
• A healthy diet that is low in sugar and acidic foods and beverages
Avoiding cavities, quite frankly, takes just minutes a day. Remember that children will reflect your own personal commitment to having good oral health. For the well-being of your own smile, this is an excellent reason to be committed to daily brushing and flossing.
With Halloween, we enter a season of being tempted by many sugary and carb-heavy treats. Be aware of the risks to your smile and enjoy the healthy benefits.
If you’ve delayed your regular dental cleanings and exams, or if you need a dentist, our Shelby Twp dental office is a complete-care environment with a priority on comfort. We are always happy to welcome new patients! For a free consultation, tap here. Or, to schedule an appointment, tap here or call 586-739-2155.