Sugar: Not Just About the Cavities

Sugar and inflammation are tightly linked.

Many years ago, when my son was very young, I asked a pediatrician how much juice to feed him. At that time, I was under the impression that young people needed juice for energy and vitamin C. The pediatrician looked at me and asked, “Why would you give your son dessert to drink?”

Of course, because of further research and changes in the way our culture views food, we now know she was exactly right. Juice is really glorified sugar water. And the evidence of negative health effects is mounting against sugar.

The Alarming Effects of Sugar

Sugar can have serious health consequences for your teeth and entire body.I have read many articles about sugar consumption from sources like the AMA, the American Heart Association, the NIH, Environmental Nutrition, and the CDC. Although the exact numbers vary, sugar consumption in this country ranges from 100-150 lbs per person per year. I know that our consumption has been going down a bit, but clearly not far enough. Have you ever carried around a 10-lb bag of sugar for very long? 100 pounds is astounding to me.

It is widely accepted that sweets have been linked to tooth decay. But if tooth decay is present in your mouth, some other type of “decay” is happening in your body.

How Sugar and Inflammation Are Linked

Inflammation has become a catchword in conversation. I’d encourage you not to ignore it even though it’s thrown around casually in many health discussions. Sugar feeds inflammation. Long-term chronic inflammation is at the root (no dental pun intended) of all our chronic diseases. I will write more on that in future blogs.

For example, an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association in March of 2014 studied a population of more that 31,000 adults. The study concluded that those who consumed 17-21% of calories as added sugar had 38% greater chance of dying from heart disease. The risk nearly triples when it is 25% of calories in the diet.

Other studies connect excessive consumption to cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease. In his most recent book, “The Case Against Sugar,” American science writer Gary Taubes links the explosion of sugar consumption in the US to our climbing rate of diabetes. Sadly, we may not even know how many other illnesses are caused by excessive levels of this carbohydrate in our modern diets.

One thing is clear: On the whole, we’re eating an excessive amount of sweets. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day of added sugars. This is a teeny amount. Generally, women eat 22 teaspoons per day.

Resolve to Cut Sugar Out of Your Diet

Many of us don’t truly know how much of the sweet stuff we are consuming. We may even think we are consuming healthy sweeteners like brown rice syrup (which may also contain arsenic!), but the reality is that the body treats all sweeteners the same. If we want to improve our health, we need to cut way back.

My brother visited a few years ago and we had this discussion. He was happily eating his bran cereal (with sugar), juice, and sometimes toast for breakfast. He was astounded after adding up the sugars in this “healthy” breakfast. And he suffered almost daily headaches. His joints hurt. He took a nap during lunch at work. He also dreamed about eating cake, etc., at night.

Sweeteners are sneaky and addicting. They are in our salad dressings, lunch meat, coffee drinks from Starbucks, breads, and more. Avoiding candy bars alone isn’t enough to protect against harmful effects.

It’s a new year. As we make resolutions about how to improve our lives, I encourage you to look at sugar. You will improve your own health as well as that of your family if you just don’t have it around.



“The Case Against Sugar” by Gary Taubes

AMA. JAMA 2014; 311(12): 1191

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Inflammation: Friend or Foe?

As a dentist, I work with the body’s inflammatory responses nearly every day. Bacteria builds up around a tooth, and the gums swell with blood in an effort to fight the growing infection. This can happen for the simplest of reasons: a change in diet or home-care habits being the most common. But sometimes the mouth can have a more generalized reaction. Instead of inflammation developing in a single, localized area of infection, the gums swell and bleed uniformly throughout the entire mouth. Gingivitis like this may still be a reaction to too much bacteria all throughout the mouth, but sometimes gingivitis can develop even in a healthy mouth where plaque and bacteria are seemingly under control. Stress, dietary or environmental allergens and irritants, or an underlying systemic inflammatory disorder can all contribute to the development of chronic inflammation in the mouth.

Inflammation anywhere in the body is never a good sign, but in most cases it is a normal response to a physical injury, a localized infection, or an allergen. Your body is trying to help you fix the problem by sending extra blood to the area to speed healing and fight unwanted intruders. In a healthy system, this inflammation subsides as soon as balance is restored to the area: the bone is set, the infection is under control, or the allergen has been removed and processed out of the body. Sometimes, however, the body can get stuck in an inflammatory response even though the allergens, infecting bacteria, or physical injuries have been resolved. When this happens, inflammation is no longer a helpful partner in defending and healing your body. Inflammation and the immune system that triggers it are now at odds with your body – seemingly attacking otherwise healthy systems for reasons we still don’t completely understand.

What we do understand so far is that inflammatory disease anywhere in the body seems to be multifactorial in nature. Stress, diet, environment, and physical activity all seem to have a role in the progression or stabilization of nearly all chronic inflammatory conditions. Systemic inflammatory conditions also seem to have a unique relationship with inflammatory conditions of the mouth. We still don’t know if that relationship is actually causative, but the correlations between the two are extremely strong.

Inflammation, like pain, is a message from your body that something is wrong somewhere. Understanding that message can be tricky sometimes, especially when the body’s inflammatory response is the problem. To help you begin unravelling what your body may be trying to tell you, I’ve created a new resource article this month entitled Inflammatory Disease and the Mouth. It is my hope that anyone who has or suspects they may have a chronic inflammatory condition will read this article and share their concerns, questions, and self-observations with their medical and dental providers.

As always, if you are a current patient of mine, or you would like to become a patient, please feel free to call my office during our regular business hours with any questions or concerns you may have about inflammation in your mouth or a suspected inflammatory disorder.

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