In the 1960s, the National Institute for Dental Research launched a program to attempt to eradicate dental cavities (caries). It seemed like it shouldn’t be hard. We understood the basic cause of cavities: sugar in the mouth feeds oral bacteria, which in turn secrete acids that damage and eventually destroy the teeth.
We also understand many ways to slow damage to the teeth and even to repair it with the use of fluoride in the form of toothpaste, water fluoridation, and many other applications. We have done well increasing access to dental care, and introducing fluoride to many more people than in the past. But there’s one cavity reduction method we haven’t been able to really get a handle on: sugar consumption.
Policies Tried to Reduce Sugar Consumption
A recent article in the Journal of Dental Research took a close look at efforts around the world to reduce sugar consumption, including those in the United States. It found that the approaches to reducing sugar consumption broke down into four categories:
- Provide information about sugar consumption and its risks
- Decrease access to sugar in some populations
- Providing incentives to avoid sugar consumption (such as taxes)
- Prohibit sugar consumption or sale
All these approaches have been tried to varying degrees in the US, but researchers note that they have been restricted in their application because of several factors, including active interference from the sugar lobby and other related interest groups.
Are We Turning the Corner?
However, there is a bright spot in all this. It seems the amount of sugar consumed by Americans may finally be decreasing, largely because people are trying to restrict soda consumption. It seems that from 2000 to 2008, sugar consumption–in the form of added sugars–dropped from 3.5 ounces per day to 2.7 ounces per day. Two-thirds of this drop was due to decreased soda consumption, which typically contains high concentrations of high fructose corn syrup, but is also damaging because of acid content.
Sugar consumption as a percentage of total caloric intake also decreased significantly. It dropped from over 18% of daily caloric intake to under 15% of caloric intake, although this is still much higher than the 10% recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO). Still, that’s progress.
If we continue to make progress against sugar consumption, it’s likely that we will see a significant reduction in cavities among all segments in the population. And maybe, one day, we may even see their eradication.