Do you know the number one reason for a 5-year-old being admitted to hospital in the UK? Actually, I will make it easier for you, it is the same for 6, 7, 8 and 9-year-olds.
Yes, tooth decay! Shocking isn’t it? Especially when it is entirely preventable. Tooth decay is the most common disease affecting children (Marshall et al 2003) and it is 100% down to diet. Having decayed teeth affects speech, nutrition, growth, eating, and social interactions.
Being a dentist, I am spending more and more of my time repairing the damage sugar has done. Dentists are losing the battle against sugar, there is just as much tooth decay now, as there was when I first qualified 28 years ago. Despite the advances in modern medicine and almost universal use of fluoride toothpaste in the UK, tooth decay is on the rise. Enamel is the hardest substance in our bodies, but once destroyed it does not grow back. It is attacked by acid which is a by-product of all the sugar we eat. Tooth decay is an early warning sign that there is too much sugar in your diet.
Low mood: sugar can affect how you feel
Addiction: sugar acts like a drug, flooding your brain with dopamine
Cardiovascular disease: sugar raises blood pressure and increases blood fats (triglycerides)
Cavities and gum disease: it feeds bacteria in your mouth, which damages gums and tooth enamel
Metabolic problems: sugar causes insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes
Type 2 diabetes: sugar from both sweet and starchy foods causes diabetes
Skin: it increases both inflammation in your body and oil production leading to acne and ageing of your skin
Weight gain: sugar is converted into body fat in the liver
Belly fat: even skinny people may have a tum, courtesy of insulin
Hunger: sugar causes you to be resistant to the hormone leptin, so you don’t feel full
Cravings: it can make you obsess about food
Empty calories: sugar doesn’t contain any nutrients
Low energy: sugar drops your energy like a stone in as little as 30 minutes
There are so many health problems associated with sugar overload. These may be part of the reason that you are looking to cut down yourself, or you may not be aware that some of these are caused by sugar at all. I will expand on some of the most important starting with our mouths.
You probably know about tooth decay and should be reducing the frequency and the amount of sugar and carbohydrates you are eating. As we get over 50, we are more prone to our gums shrinking (gum recession) exposing our roots. These are much more likely to decay, so it is very important for the over 50s to visit their dentist regularly and perhaps have fluoride applied to prevent decay. Also, as we age the quality and quantity of our saliva changes. This saliva is vital to neutralise the acids in our mouth, stopping tooth decay. Some people find chewing sugar-free chewing gum or lozenges after a meal can help increase saliva flow.
Eating added sugars will increase your body’s inflammation. We know that gum disease in diabetic patients is more aggressive, leading to faster breakdown of the gums and the bones around their teeth, eventually resulting in losing their teeth. We also know that the chronic inflammation in gum disease actually contributes to further diabetic complications. Someone with diabetes needs to clean their teeth more thoroughly and see their hygienist and dentist more regularly. This will not only prevent gum problems but will also stop complications in the rest of their body.
Long-term high sugar intake can change the bacterial population of the mouth (oral microbiome) leaving you with more bacteria that cause bad breath. This microbiome has long been known to be a reservoir for infection at other places in the body. Oral bacteria easily get access to the bloodstream via the gums or cavities in teeth which can lead to infectious endocarditis and brain and liver abscesses.
Increasing evidence shows that chronic infections, like those that result from gum disease, play a role in the development of heart disease. Thoughts that the connection is related to widespread effects from the body’s inflammatory response to infection.
This is less agreed on. Multiple studies have shown sugar and high insulin levels are associated with insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which can “enhance tumour cell proliferation” and “may interfere with cancer therapy”.
Research has found that after just six days of low sugar your palate will recalibrate, and you will start to notice how sweet normal foods and drinks taste. I have teamed up with nutritionist Jenny Philips and professional chef Giancarlo Caldesi to produce a cookbook called *Kick Sugar to help people reduce the sugar in their diet permanently. This is not just a recipe book, it is a journey to reawakening your taste buds! All profits from the sale of Kick Sugar will go to Rewards Project. This charity is improving our health and wellbeing by transforming how we use sugar-based foods and drinks to reward good behaviour and performance.
You can work with your dental team to help replace the sugar in your diets. Not only will your teeth and mouth become healthier but also the rest of your body. Most people see their dental teams more often than their doctor, so this gives us a unique opportunity to help. I talk to all my patients about diet and exercise and gently nudge them by giving them tips on snacking, different exercises, and we now have a free meditation app to help people kick sugar! We spot the signs of other disease by subtle changes in our patients’ mouths. In the majority of cases, these people are unaware of any problems and we refer them to the relevant specialists before it is too late.
James Goolnik BDS MSc is a UK Dentist and founder of Bow Lane Dental is on a mission to help the world to kick sugar.
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