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    Effects of Sugar on Oral Health

    A study by Newcastle University researchers into the effects of sugars on our oral health recommends cutting down on the sweet additive 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% of toal energy (calorie) intake. Free sugars are sugars that are added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, plus those naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.

    Commissioned by the WHO and published in the Journal of Dental Research the study recognises the benefit of this threshold, by showing that when less than 10% of total calories in the diet is made up of free sugars there are much lower levels of tooth decay. The research findings go even further, suggesting that halving this threshold for sugars to less than 5% of calories – around five teaspoons a day – would bring further benefits, minimising the risk of dental cavities throughout life.

    Professor Paula Moynihan, Professor of Nutrition and Oral Health at Newcastle University, United Kingdom, said: In the past, judgements on recommended levels of free sugars intake were made based on levels associated with an average of three of few decayed teeth in 12-year-olds. However, tooth decay is a progressive disease – by looking at patterns of tooth decay in populations over time, we now know that children with less than three cavities at age 12, go on to develop a high number of cavities in adulthood.

    “Part of the problem is that sugary foods and drinks are now staples in many people’s diet in industrialised countries, whereas once they were occasional treat for a birthday or Christmas. We need to reverse the trend”.


    Considering the studies which examined the influence of fluoride, the experts found that while it does protect teeth, people living in areas with fluoridated water and/or using fluoride toothpaste still got dental caries. Professor Moynihan explained: “Fluoride undoubtedly protects the teeth against decay but it does not elminate tooth decay and it does not get rid of the cause – dietary sugars. Moreover, not everyone has good exposure to fluoride through drinking water and or toothpastes containing fluoride.”

    Professor Moynihan added: “The public needs better information on the health risks of sugary foods and drinks and there needs to be clearer information on the levels of sugars in our foods and drinks. We need to make it easier for people to make healthier choices when it comes to sugars by ensuring that options lower in added sugars. are made widely available in schools, shops and the workplace.

    Dr Karin Alexander, President of the ADA said these findings support the ADA’s stance on diet and dental health. “The ADA has long had the view that dietary education should be targeted to specific high risk age groups:

    • Infants and babies – sleeping with comforters, bottles or night feeders containing any sugar products, including milk and fruit juices, should be discouraged.
    • Children and young adults – frequent consumption of drinks and foods with high sugar and/or acid content should be discouraged.
    • The elderly – increasing the sugar content in the diet of elderly persons, due to their increased risk of careis from reduced saliva levels and more exposed root surfaces, should be discouraged.

    The study’s findings also justifies the ADA’s stance that governments should apply a tax on sugar and sugar-containing confectionery and soft-drinks and moneys from such taxation be used to find dental care for disadvantaged Australians.”

    Source: Australian Dental Association, ‘Effects of Sugar on Oral Health‘, News Bulletin, February 2014, No 428, P 8