Dental Health Week 2020 aims to show the average Australian just how much hidden sugar is lurking in the processed food they eat, how it affects their oral and general health, and how they can eat sugar responsibly.
Sugar in our diet is a tricky thing as we are often unaware, we are consuming it. A sugary treat is one thing, but there is plenty of sugar in foods we all eat daily without knowing it. It may be difficult to identify the exact amount of sugar in food as it may be identified on the label.
Sugars in foods can be naturally occurring or added. Naturally occurring sugars occur in things like fruit and milk and these sugars are less of a problem for us as milk and fruit are essential for a healthy balanced diet. Added sugars are a different story. There are literally dozens of names for added sugars including sucrose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, syrup, honey, malt, maple syrup, corn syrup or rice syrup to name a few.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends aiming for a diet containing six (6) teaspoons of sugar a day (about 25grams). The reason for this is simple. Reducing sugar reduces the risk of obesity and heart disease and it if bad for our teeth.
The Australian Health Survey looked at sugars in our diet and identified a number of key points:
Australians consumed an average of 60 grams of free sugars per day (equivalent to 14 teaspoons of white sugar). Most of this sugar came from added sugars with an average of 52grams, with 7 grams of this coming from honey and fruit juice.
Consumption of added sugars were highest among teenage males (aged 14-18 years), who consumed an average 92 grams per day.
The top 10% of the 14-18 year old males were estimated to usually consume at least 160 grams (or 38 teaspoons) of free sugars per day.
52% of all Australians aged 2 years and over exceeded the WHO recommendation to limit energy from free sugars to less than 10% of dietary energy.
75% of children aged of 9-13 and 14-18 usually consumed 10% or more of their dietary energy from free sugars. The highest 10% of 14-18 year olds were deriving at least 23% of their energy from free sugars.
Adults aged 51-70 years were least likely to exceed the recommendation (38% of males and 35% of females).
The majority (81%) of added sugars were consumed from the energy-dense, nutrient-poor ‘discretionary’ foods and beverages. Just over half (52%) of free sugars in the diet were consumed from beverages, with the leading beverages being soft drinks, electrolyte and energy drinks (19%), fruit and vegetable juices and drinks (13%) and cordial (4.9%). The leading foods were confectionary and cakes/muffins (each contributing 8.7%).
The longer a sugary food is in contact with a tooth, the more damage is likely to be caused. Regular snacking and “grazing” will increase the risk of tooth decay as the teeth are bathed in acid for longer periods of time.
The duration of food in the mouth is the most critical factor leading to tooth decay. Acid produced by bacteria will last approximately 20 minutes before being neutralised by saliva.
Many foods that are believed to be a healthy snack may actually be causing decay. Foods such as sultanas, dried fruit, health and muesli bars, may lead to dental decay. Cooked starches such as potato chips, crackers and breads may in fact take a longer time to clear from the mouth, leading to a risk of tooth decay.
Foods containing sugars and starch are best consumed as part of a meal rather than a snack to minimise the risk of decay.
Sipping frozen juice bottles, although refreshing, will also prolong the food source for decay causing bacteria. Water remains the best option for a refreshing drink.
Cheeses such as cheddar, Swiss and mozzarella have been shown to stimulate the flow of saliva, thus clearing the mouth of food debris while at the same time acting as a buffer by neutralising the acid produced. Calcium and phosphate ions found in cheese also help promote remineralisation of the tooth enamel.
Drinking or rinsing your mouth with water following meals, is an effective way to remove food debris and help neutralise acid produced by decay causing bacteria. Daily brushing and flossing remain the best way to reduce the risk of dental decay.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy mouth, there are 4 points to remember:
– Brush twice a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride.
– Clean in between teeth at least once a day with floss or an interdental brush.
– Eat a nutritious diet and limit sugar intake.
– Regularly visit the dentist for check-ups and preventive treatment.
B.D.S(Hons).(Syd). MDSc (Melb, Grad.Dip.Clin.Dent (Oral Implants), Grad.Dip.Clin.Dent (Conscious Sedation & Pain Control), FRACDS, FPFA, Senior Clinical Associate (Uni of Syd), Dental Surgeon.