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All about Sugar and Dental Decline

We all know that sugar consumption is linked to dental decay. But what isn’t so obvious is how much our sugar consumption has increased in the last 50 years; over this period sugar consumption has tripled worldwide, mainly as a result of it being added to soft drink and cheap processed foods. However, the issue is not merely about “hidden” sugar but people living in a way that means they are eating carbohydrate rich meals, sugar laden snacks, biscuits, sweets and chocolates, drinking soft drink full of sugar and caffeine or having excess fruit and fruit juices and smoothies which are nothing more than concentrated sugar under the guise of a healthy choice. Our waistlines are expanding while at the same time, the incidence of heart disease, diabetes and dental decay continues to soar.

While excess sugar is thought to be a key cause of the obesity epidemic, obesity itself is not the root cause of disease, but it’s presence is a marker for metabolic damage and changes that lead to heart disease and diabetes. Metabolic damage, oxidative stress and systemic chronic illness also impact on oral health. Sugar is so harmful to health that there are calls for it to be controlled and taxed in the same way as tobacco and alcohol. Research indicates that sugar indirectly contributes to 35 million deaths a year worldwide as there appears to be links to the massive rise in diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes since we began eating more sugar. The health effects of excess sugar consumption are similar to those of alcohol.

For the first time in human history, non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, pose a greater health burden worldwide than infectious disease. While alcohol, tobacco and diet are all targeted as risk factors for these diseases by policymakers, Doctors are apparently calling for attention to be turned towards the dangers of excess sugar consumption. Sugar provides “empty calories”, and a growing body of evidence suggests that fructose (one component of table sugar) can trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and a host of other chronic diseases.

While sugar was only available as fruit and honey at certain times of the year to our ancestors, it is now present in nearly all processed foods. In some parts of the world people are consuming more than 500 calories worth of sugar per day. There is growing evidence that excess sugar has an effect on human health beyond simply adding calories and can cause many of the same problems as alcohol, including high blood pressure, high blood fats, insulin resistance and diabetes. The economic and human costs of these diseases place excess consumption of sugar in the same category as smoking and drinking, and like tobacco and alcohol, sugar acts on the brain to encourage dependence. Specifically, it interferes with the workings of a hormone called ghrelin (which signals hunger to the brain) and it also affects the action of other important compounds.

Oral health is determined by various factors including diet, stress and the use of alcohol or tobacco. In ‘The World Oral Health Report’ published by WHO, it is stated “The rapidly changing (oral) disease patterns throughout the world are closely linked to changing lifestyles which include diets rich in sugars, widespread use of tobacco and increased consumption of alcohol”.

If we are to tackle not only the decline in oral health but the overall health of the population then it makes sense that we address our level of sugar consumption, but at the same time we must surely stop and observe the way in which we are living. Something has gone drastically wrong when despite our remarkable medical advances and vast knowledge of the body, nutrition and illness and disease the statistics show that we are fighting a losing battle as the prevalence of heart disease, diabetes and cancer continue to rise.

Is it possible that it is too confronting to stop and ask ourselves why are we eating so much sugar? Would it reveal things about us and the way we are that could be challenging and mean that we have to take responsibility for our daily choices? Like the fact that we eat sugar because we are exhausted, stressed or seeking comfort. Or we are seeking a moment of pleasure, a quick buzz, and a high via a sugar rush that gets our nervous system revved up and out of balance. Or we are desperate to numb the way we feel inside and avoid dealing with life. Or we do not feel alive enough just as we are without altering our brain and body chemistry with foods.