The American Dental Association (ADA) applauds New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for shining a spotlight on the issue of frequent and excessive consumption of soda and other sugary beverages which raises the risk of adverse health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
When it comes to a ban related to a particular food or beverage, is a stick rather than a carrot approach the best way to get people to adopt healthier diets? Perhaps not, but the attention alone that the mayor’s ban has generated on this issue is certainly a huge step in the right direction.
Health professionals, including dentists, have long stressed the importance of a healthy diet; yet obesity and lack of exercise—associated with chronic diseases and conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and hypertension—remain high.
In addition, more than one in five Americans have untreated cavities, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People aged 20 to 44 had the highest rate of untreated cavities, at 25 percent. It is estimated that pain from untreated dental disease results in millions of missed school and work hours.
For decades, ADA policies have expressed concern and a need to educate the public about the effect nutrition has on oral health. Specific to soda consumption and risk of tooth decay, the American Dental Association adopted a policy in 2000 opposing contractual arrangements between schools and soda manufacturers (known as “pouring rights contracts”) that influence consumption patterns and promote increased access to soft drinks for children.
Progress has been made, but additional public education efforts related to nutrition are needed. Eating a balanced diet is critical to overall health and wellness. A single sugary food or beverage cannot be blamed for causing tooth decay, obesity and other serious health conditions. Almost all foods have some type of sugar. You cannot and should not remove all sugar from your diet. Many foods and drinks, like apples, carrots and milk, are naturally sweet and have vitamins and nutrients that your body needs.
Yet, from a dental perspective, a steady diet of sugary foods and drinks, including juice and sports drinks, can damage teeth. Cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and produce acids that attack tooth enamel for up to 20 minutes after you eat or drink. Sipping sugary beverages or eating sugary foods all day results in repeated acid attacks that weaken tooth enamel which can lead to cavities.
To help reduce the risk of tooth decay, read the labels of foods and beverages and make sure they are low in added sugar. If you have a sugary food or drink, have it with a meal. Limit between meal sipping and snacking on sugary beverages and foods. Additional guidelines on a healthy diet are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at www.choosemyplate.gov.
The American Dental Association also recommends brushing twice a day with ADA-Accepted fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, eating a balanced diet and visiting your dentist regularly.