Sugar, Sugar, Sugar: Just How Obsessed Are We with Sweet Drinks?
Have you heard of the documentary Fed Up? The film talks about how thirty years ago, the U.S. government failed to notice the role sugar played in dietary guidelines and in people’s health. Since people wanted “low fat” options that still tasted good, fat was removed and replaced with sugar; and processed foods thrived.
So are Americans obsessed with sugar now? According to The Washington Post, we most certainly are and eat more sugar than any other country. The average American has over 125 grams of sugar each day, which–according to the Post–is about three cans of coke.
While diabetes and obesity are the main health issues that can arise from sugar addictions, oral health issues are also a problem. Some local governments have even tried to stymie issues with sugar taxes according to asdablog.com:
How do sugar taxes work?
Sugar taxes raise the price of SSBs. The local government then collects that money to put toward public services, infrastructure improvements and other city costs. A city with a $0.01 sugar tax will see the price of a two-liter bottle of soda increase by about $0.68 and a six-pack of canned soda increase by $0.72. These taxes do not usually apply to milk, 100% juice, baby formula, alcohol or medical beverages.
Do sugar taxes affect health?
A 2016 study published in The BMJ found that following the implementation of a 2014 SSB tax in Mexico, purchases of taxed beverages decreased while purchases of un-taxed beverages increased. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Dental Research also indicated that SSB taxation could reduce caries rates and dental treatment costs. Furthermore, a 2015 study in the Journal of Dental Research notes that while dentistry has focused on increasing oral hygiene and prevention services, recent findings suggest that efforts to decreasing sugar intake to reduce caries should also be increased.
What can dental students do about sugar taxes?
If you live in or attend school in an area with sugar taxes, you can talk to your patients about what they mean. Patients often need help feeling motivated to take action towards improving their oral health and dietary habits. Talking with patients about how they can save money and improve their oral health by drinking tap water instead of soda is a great motivating factor! Informing patients about the true cost of soda may be just the push they need to break their soda-drinking habit.
Of course, not everyone may be happy about these increased taxes. After all, how much do you want the government getting involved in your day-to-day choices? On the flipside, this article was geared towards dental students and how they can help–not force–people adjust their habits in moderation.
Again this is a tricky issue. Most people know that a habit like smoking is detrimental to their oral health, and they may be open to quitting. But if you get in the way of someone’s dietary choices, they may be telling you that you’ve crossed a line. Everyone needs to eat, and unfortunately many sugary items are more affordable.
To encourage change, dentists should be more up-front with how sugar can contribute to cavities and the need for dental fillings. Although a recent article at 123dentist.com addresses those wanting whiter teeth, the content outlines just how much soda and other sugary items contribute to tooth decay:
Fruit juices, especially berry or citrus fruit juices, are full acids and sugars. This is a dangerous combination for teeth as the acids break down the outer layer of teeth, exposing the vulnerable dentin, and sugars offer a breeding ground for bacteria which can attack the inner part of the tooth and cause cavities. The yellowing effect can come from both a buildup of bacteria, plaque and tartar and the exposed inner layer of teeth. If you’re looking for hydration, water is the best and healthiest way to quench your thirst.
Any beverage with carbonation is acidic. This is because the bubbles of carbonation are actually carbon dioxide and when you drink it, the gas goes through a chemical reaction in your mouth which turns it into an acid. This acid, again, is very harmful to tooth enamel as it weakens it, makes the tooth more vulnerable, and exposes its yellow inner layers. Pops and carbonated juices with sugar are especially destructive as the sugar promotes the growth of bacteria as well as exposing your teeth to acids. Favour non-carbonated drinks as you enjoy your holiday season and you won’t have to worry about yellowing teeth in the new year.
Because people generally don’t like to be forced to make a change (in the case of some sugar taxes), being sure to offer alternatives may be a better long-term option. Alternatives like seltzers, low-fat milk, unsweetened tea with honey, etc. are all good options. And even though 123dentist.com article says that carbonated drinks and fruit juices are sugary and can cause decay, that doesn’t mean you have to completely cut them out. Everything in moderation, right?