By Sola Ogundipe
The sweetness of sugar is an obsession. Excessive consumption of refined sugar, a.k.a. the world’s most exotic spice, or “white gold” is indeed the No.1 cause of dental decay. Growing consumption of sugar is significantly increasing the incidence of dental caries, tooth decay and cavities.
There is a raging epidemic of dental cavities and caries. Experts say it is a social epidemic spreading through urbanization. Already, no less than five billion people (nearly 80 percent of the world’s population) suffer from tooth decay. Worldwide, 60–90 percent of school children and nearly all adults have dental cavities. Dental decay is now the most common chronic disease on the planet —yet it is preventable. Other concerns such as Early Childhood Caries, ECC, are on the rise amongst very young children.
Cavities are formed when plaque bacteria persistently remain in hard to reach places on our teeth between brushings. These bacteria convert the sugar and carbohydrates in the foods we eat and the beverages we drink into acids. These acids dissolve minerals from the sub-surface layer of the tooth, damaging the enamel, which, without proper care, can lead to cavities.
Repeated studies have confirmed that sugar causes dental caries which in turn causes tooth decay and cavities.
Dr. A. Sheiham, a Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health,notes that sugar,in the form of sucrose, is the most important dietary cause of dental caries. Both the frequency of consumption and the total amount of sugar are important factors that cause caries.
The evidence establishing sugars as a cause of dental caries is indeed overwhelming, with the foundation in the multiplicity of studies rather than the power of any one. The rule of the thumb is that sugar is bad for our teeth.
Sheiham notes: “The intake of sugar beyond four times a day leads to an increased risk of dental caries. Sugars above 60 grams per person per day increase the rate of dental caries. He concludes that the main strategy to further reduce the levels of dental caries is to reduce the frequency of sugars in the diet.
A study by Newcastle University researchers into the effects of sugar on oral health recommends cutting down on sugar as part of a global initiative to reduce tooth decay.
Since 1990 the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that intake of “free sugars” should be less than 10 percent of total energy (calorie) intake. The study, published in the Journal of Dental Research recognises that when less than 10 percent of total calories in the diet are made up of free sugars there are much lower levels of tooth decay.
Professor Moynihan, Professor of Nutrition and Oral Health at Newcastle University said pof the problem is that sugary foods and drinks are now staples in many people’s diet in industrialised and even non-industrialised countries, whereas once they were an occasional treat for a birthday or Christmas. We need to reverse this trend.”
In a study of over 6,000 14-year-olds to examine the association between the consumption of different drinks and dental caries, it was concluded that consumption of sugary and carbonated drinks was associated with significantly higher levels of dental caries. Drinking unsweetened tea was associated with lower levels of caries.
As we age, our teeth often become weak from a lifetime of sugar damage, calcium depletion and wear. Dental bills stack up. Painful cavities can be ignored and grow worse. The best way to keep from causing all this unnecessary damage is to remove excess sugar from the diet and focus your meals on nutrient-rich foods.
Experts warn that caries compromises not only oral health, but overall health, development and quality of life, both in the short run and in the long term. Caries also makes one more vulnerable to various infections in other parts of the body, such as ears, sinuses and the brain.
Among problems caused by poor dental health include death from infection and increased risk of other serious medical conditions, pain and its known costs, and poor general health from childhood into adulthood.
Common causes of a rise in the cavity epidemic include unhealthy diet, lack of understanding about the caries continuum, and lack of action from relevant parties (government, parents). Others are lack of access to proper dental care facilities, poor oral hygiene routines and lack of or irregular visits to the dentist.
It is now known that untreated cavities can lead to death. Examples abound. A 12-year-old Deamonte driver died after bacteria from an abscessed tooth travelled to his brain. Also, 24-year-old Kyle Willis died after an infection from an infected wisdom tooth spread to his brain, just as 31-year-old John Schneider died after an infected tooth lead to blood infection and all his organs started shutting down.
In recognition of this challenge, Colgate, a renowned toothpaste manufacturer and oral care company, introduced the Colgate Maximum Cavity Protection Plus Sugar Acid Neutraliser Toothpaste. Utilising the Pro-Argin technology—a combination of arginine (an amino acid commonly found in proteins in foods and naturally found in the human body) with an insoluble calcium compound, the technology helps to prevent cavities.
A dentist explained that the Sugar Acid Neutraliser technology actually works biologically by targeting the primary cause of caries—plaque biofilm—to reduce the effects of acids produced from sugars before they can harm the teeth. He said the fluoride works by strengthening teeth and decreasing de-mineralization by acids, while the Sugar Acid Neutraliser technology works to create a healthy environment for the teeth by increasing the plaque pH and further preventing demineralization and promoting re-mineralization of the teeth. Together, they help arrest and reverse the caries process by decreasing demineralization and increasing remineralisation much more effectively than fluoride alone and all these result in less cavity formation than fluoride alone.
The new toothpaste treats the cause of caries by targeting acid produced from sugars by bacteria in plaque, in addition to providing the conventional benefits of fluoride.
With regular twice daily use, the formula works to neutralize harmful acids that are formed by bacteria from sugar, to reduce early caries while also strengthening and restoring enamel to help prevent cavity formation.