Sugar overload – Justin Smith CALCIVIS Ltd

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  Posted by: Dental Design      7th April 2019

Kids always seem to be hungry. They live life in the fast lane and with growth spurts and hormone changes, it is no wonder they are often on the hunt for a tasty snack between meals. Two well-timed, healthy snacks are recommended each day to control hunger, boost nutrition and supply fuel to their growing bodies, yet often that little something is laden with sugar. Indeed, half the sugar children eat and drink comes from snacks and sugary drinks[1]and according to Public Health England, children are currently eating the equivalent of 8 extra sugar cubes a day – that’s 2,800 every year.

A study of children’s’ eating habits has revealed that the average child consumes over 20 stones or 18 years’ worth of sugar by the time they are 10 years old.[2]Severe obesity within this age group has now reached an all time high[3]and regrettably, a child has a tooth removed in hospital every ten minutes due to preventable tooth decay.[4]

As we know, the government has introduced the ‘sugar tax’ on sugary drinks, mandatory calorie labelling, restrictions on price promotions on unhealthy foods and a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children. Also, Public Health England has placed a challenge on the food industry to reduce 20 per cent of sugar and calories in everyday foods consumed regularly by children and campaigns such as ‘Change 4 Life’ have been implemented to help families to make healthier choices. Nevertheless, dental professionals still have an important role to play in the mission to reduce sugar consumption and prevent the harmful build up of fat, serious health conditions and of course, tooth decay.

Firstly, dental professionals can help patients to really get to grips with sugars, and we are not just talking about the white stuff that they sprinkle on their cornflakes or stir into tea. Sugars occur naturally in a wide variety of foods – fructose or fruit sugar is found in vegetables, fruit and honey; lactose or milk sugar is found in products made with milk; fructans are found in breads, cereals and pasta, and galactans in beans and legumes. It is also important to explain to patients that all carbohydrates break down into ‘simple sugars’ and fermentable carbohydrates in particular, interact with oral bacteria to produce acids that slowly dissolve minerals in tooth enamel. As a result, some parents may be surprised to learn that foods such as bread, crisps and cereals have the potential to cause tooth decay.

Most parents will be aware that ‘added sugars’ are those that are added to foods during the processing or preparation stage. However, it is important to emphasise that ‘added sugars’ do not includenaturally occurring sugars or ‘intrinsic’ sugars, that are present in milk and dairy foods as well as intact grains, fruit and vegetables[5], which contribute to the ‘total sugars’ of a given product.

The term ‘free sugars’ can also be somewhat confusing. Many people are inclined to believe that ‘free sugars’ can be freely consumed without any concern. But as dental professionals are aware, ‘free sugars’ include all sugars added by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, as well as those that are present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Furthermore, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommends that free sugar intake in the UK should account for no more than 5 per cent of daily energy intake[6], and research indicates that this recommendation should minimise the risk of caries throughout the life course.[7]

The relationship between sugar intake and caries has been consistently demonstrated.[8]Therefore, as part of a preventive approach, dental professionals should highlight the way in which dietary sugars interact with oral bacteria to allow enamel demineralising acids to flourish.[9]Patients need to realise that if they or their children consume sugars frequently throughout the day by eating snacks or sipping sweetened drinks, for example, they are providing a source for bacteria to produce damaging acids almost constantly.

Saliva, of course, naturally helps to neutralise the acids produced by bacteria and good oral hygiene with the incorporation of fluoride also helps to regain lost minerals to the tooth enamel. An explanation of the demineralising and remineralising processes is vital to increase patient understanding and the new CALCIVIS® system provides an effective educational tool. Designed to visualise active demineralisation on tooth surfaces at its earliest stages, the CALCIVIS system uses bioluminescence to display a glowing map of ‘hot spots’ at the chair side. These engaging images enable adults and children (from the age of 6) to actually see the impact of their diet and recognise the importance of good oral hygiene, whilst allowing dental professionals to discuss the benefits of on-going preventive strategies.

With innovation within the practice, dental professionals can offer greater understanding to parents and children, and contribute significantly to reducing sugar intake and improving the dental and general health of the nation.


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[1]Public Health England Change for Life Campaign. Healthier snacks for kids.[Accessed 3rd January 2019]

[2]Public Health England. 10 year olds in the UK have consumed 18 years’ worth of sugar. Published 2ndJanuary 2019 3rd January 2019]

[3]Public Health England. Record high levels of severe obesity found in year 6 children. Published 11thOctober 2018.[Accessed 3rd January 2019]

[4]Public Health England. Every 10 minutes a child in England has a rotten tooth removed. Published 6 April 2018{Accessed 3rd January 2019]

[5]Mela D.J. and Woolner E.M. Perspective: Total, added or free? What kind of Sugars should we be talking about? Advances in Nutrition, March 2018; 9(2) 63–69.[Accessed 2nd January 2019]

[6]Sampson G. What are free sugars? Dietitian without Borders. July 2015.[Accessed 2ndJanuary 2019]

[7]Monynihan P.J. Kelly S.A.M. Effect on caries of restricting sugars intake: Systematic review to inform WHO guidelines. Journal of Dental Research. Dec 2013;93 (1) 8-18.[Accessed 2nd January 2019]

[8]Zero D.T. Sugars – The arch criminal. Caries Res 2004;38 277-285.[Accessed 2nd January 2019]

[9]Sheiham A and James W.P.T. Diet and Dental Caries: The pivotal role of free sugars reemphasized. J Dent Res. 2015 Oct;94(10):1341-7[Accessed 2nd January 2019]

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