We’ve known for a long time that the primary driver of oral decay is the consumption of high levels of sugar-rich foods. As processed or added sugars became widely available, tooth decay and tooth loss skyrocketed in all countries, and it is only with the advent of high-tech dentistry and public health programs that we’ve been able to reduce the amount of decay people experience.
Unfortunately, all preventive dentistry has barely been keeping pace with increased sugar consumption for helping people retain their teeth with age.
So in the 1960s, the National Institute for Dental Research tried to reduce cavities using a number of techniques, all of which succeeded, except the effort to reduce sugar consumption. A recent study tried to explain why we’ve had so hard a time reducing sugar consumption.
Policies Tried to Reduce Sugar Consumption
The study looked at the strong evidence linking sugar consumption with cavities, which has been validated for over 50 years in over 20 countries. So then it seems that reducing sugar consumption should be a high priority for oral health, and to attempt to achieve this priority, policymakers have attempted to:
- Educate people about the dangers of sugar consumption
- Reduce people’s access to sugar
- Tax sugar or otherwise make sugar less desirable to purchase
- Prohibit the consumption of sugar
These efforts have met with mixed success for a number of reasons. First, there’s the problem that people really do like sugar. We are programmed to respond to sweetness as are most animals because sweetness was often associated with nutritious fruits in our evolutionary past.
Attempts to reduce sugar consumption have also been hampered by the efforts of the large sugar lobby, which tried to steer research away from linking sugar to cavities.
Are We Turning the Corner?
But there are signs that this might be changing. Recently, the amount of sugar consumed by Americans has finally started decreasing. In part, this may be related to more people trying to avoid consuming soda, which represents a major contribution of added sugars to our diet. These days, more than 60% of Americans are trying to avoid soda — up from only 41% in 2002 — although only 50% are trying to reduce sugars.
It seems that drink manufacturers can see the writing on the wall and are trying to get on the winning side of the battle, by pledging their help to reduce sugar and calorie consumption.
Although there’s still a long way to go, this is a hopeful sign that we may finally be able to win our war against tooth decay.
If you need an ally in your personal war against tooth decay, please call for an appointment with a Wilmington, NC dentist at Kuzma Advanced Dentistry.