Sugar and Oral Health: The High Price of a Sweet Tooth

How much sugar is too much sugar? When does sugar consumption become a health risk?

Australians are now consuming more sugar than ever before and the problem is particularly prevalent in teenagers. As sugar consumption increases and sugar consuming teenagers grow into adulthood, sugar consumption is expected to continue to rise.

The increase in sugar consumption means that Australian health care providers, and particularly dentists, will increasingly provide care for patients who over-consume sugar. Understanding the role of sugar for our health and how it can “sneak in” our diets is key to managing its risks.

By becoming more aware of our sugar intake we can help control health risks associated with it including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay, and loss.

HOW CAVITIES DEVELOP?

Your teeth are under relentless attack from acids that leech minerals from tooth enamel through demineralization.

Demineralization occurs when mouth pH drops below 5.5 (7.5 is normal). This demineralization is primarily due to two bacteria, streptococci mutans and lactobacilli.

These cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria are fueled primarily on dietary sugars including sucrose (table sugar), glucose, fructose, lactose and cooked starches.

If cariogenic bacteria are allowed to thrive they eventually bore all the way through teeth enamel into the deeper layers of the teeth. These cavities will cause pain and eventual tooth loss.

Sugar is one of the primary causes of tooth decay in Australia and the world.

SUGAR CONSUMPTION

While the World Health Organization sets a recommended daily sugar consumption equal to five per cent of daily caloric intake (25g or six teaspoons per day) Australians consume much more.

In 2011-12 the Australian Health survey revealed that Australians consumed 60 grams of sugar per day, or 14 full teaspoons.

The bulk of this sugar was coming from what is termed “extra” sources of food and drink.

Soft drinks, fruit drinks and vegetable drinks are predictable sources of this sugar, but sports and energy drinks also contain “extra” sugar.

While this is substantial, it is less than a third of total daily sugar intake, most of which comes through food.

Some nine per cent of sugar is added in confections, cakes, and muffins some of which reach 81% sugar content. Candies are even worse containing up to 93% sugar.

Even foods we typically think of as healthy can be sources of sugar. Breakfast cereals (up to 56% sugar), sauces (up to 38% sugar), and lunchbox snacks are other major contributors to daily sugar intake. It is very easy to eat sugar without being aware you are eating it.

Teenage males are the highest consumers of sugar, at approximately 92 grams of sugar per day (18 teaspoons)! This is particularly worrisome as habits developed in adolescence often continue throughout life. As a graphic from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion demonstrates, sugar consumption is well above recommended levels in all age groups.

PREVENTING SUGAR DAMAGE

What can you do? Consuming less sugar, consuming it less often, and not letting it remain in your mouth as long, are the best ways to decrease the effect of bacteria on your teeth.

  • Use artificial sweeteners in place of natural sugars.
  • Consume sugar-laden foods quickly and less often.
  • Brush and floss directly after eating foods, particularly sugary or starchy ones.
  • Substitute xylitol for table sugar.
  • Get regular dental cleanings and checkups.
  • Use a straw when drinking sugary drinks.

ANSWERS IN AUSTRALIA

The education of Australian consumers and dental professionals has been taken on by several groups. Rethink Sugary Drink is a campaign by a variety of groups including the Australian Dental Association, Diabetes Australia, the Heart Foundation, and the YMCA to decrease intake of sugars. Australia’s Cancer Council is also active in the fight against too much dietary sugar.

Damon Gameau’s 2015 documentary That Sugar Film was a success in Australia. The film documents the effects of so-called healthy foods that contain high amounts of sugar.

COMPREHENSIVE ORAL HEALTH CARE AT PRECISION DENTAL

At Precision Dental in Fortitude Valley, we are well aware of the damage the overconsumption of sugar can cause and how to treat it. More important, we are aware of how to prevent all forms of damage to teeth.

We can recommend a complete dental care program taking into account diet, dental home-care, cleaning, and treatment in our state-of-the art dental facilities.

We use cutting-edge technology and employ the latest techniques for dental cleaning, gum health, implants and aesthetic improvements. Precision Dental gives its advice and treatment with a focus on long-term health and care. Like your teeth, we plan to be in it for the long run. Most of our patients are satisfied, repeat customers who plan on returning to us for decades to come.

We are a family and community oriented full-service dental practice.

Your overall health and happiness are our ultimate goals. You will get only the best care and the safest treatment from us.

In addition, you will receive an exam to diagnose any dental issues you might have and recommend a long-term dental care program. At Precision Dental, we look forward to helping you with your elegant and trouble free smile!

If you have any questions about your dental care, call Precision Dental today on (07) 3852 1160 or book your appointment online and receive a complimentary cosmetic consultation.