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

Martha (Signature)

The Truth About Kids, Cavities, and Fluoride

This year Portland, Oregon made national headlines when the majority of voters rejected a measure to add fluoride to the city’s public water system. The debate was heated, and as a whole, the final decision was criticized by many as ill-informed and not in the best interests of our children. As a dentist, it may surprise you to know that I do not believe Portland was wrong in their decision, but my reasons have little to do with the fluoride itself.

Certainly, I am fully aware of the dental benefits that topical fluoride can provide to children and adults under the right circumstances. The scientific evidence is clear that fluoride does contribute to stronger enamel development and thus helps prevent cavities. In our modern society, however, tooth decay simply does not happen because we lack fluoride. It happens because of what we eat and how we take care of our teeth. Fluoride can be a helpful aid in the battle against decay, but it is not the cause or the ultimate solution to the problem.

Tooth decay is caused by pathogenic bacteria that live in our mouths. Everyone has this bacteria and there is no way to remove it completely without also removing beneficial forms of bacteria that live in the mouth as well. Preventing the development of tooth decay is all about controlling the numbers of these pathogenic bacteria through diet and home care (brushing and flossing).

The bacteria responsible for tooth decay thrive on sugar, refined flour, and acid. Diets high in sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, white flour, and acid are the quickest way to multiply the number of pathogenic bacterial colonies in the mouth. Sugar-sweetened beverages are especially attractive to these bacteria because they often contain high amounts of both sugar and acid.

The most common chronic condition in Oregon children is tooth decay. In 2011, the Oregon Public Health Division reported that in Oregon, more than 177 million gallons of sugar sweetened beverages are consumed each year (read report here). That amounts to approximately one gallon per week for every man, woman, and child in the state. The same report quoted a survey of Oregon mothers indicating that about half of the 2 year olds in Oregon drink sugar-sweetened beverages at least once per week.

What troubles me most about these statistics is that they do not include all the other food sources of sugar and acid in a child’s diet that also contribute to tooth decay (and childhood obesity). Fruit juice, for example, may not be sweetened with sugar but can still have the same effects on the teeth and the body. Fructose is a naturally occurring form of sugar found in all fruit and bacteria feed on it just as easily – especially when all the fiber of the fruit itself is removed during the juicing process. And certainly, when a child is drinking a sugary beverage, the likelihood that he or she is also eating a meal or treat that is high in sugar, acid and/or refined white flour is fairly high.

In the battle against tooth decay, every little bit counts, and when tooth decay in children reaches epidemic proportions, water fluoridation as a stop-gap is an option we all need to consider. But consider this as well: If a child’s diet is filled with sugars, highly-refined flours, and acid, fluoridated water is simply not enough. And if that same child also does not brush and floss his or her teeth – or they do not know how to do it correctly – then nothing (including fluoridated water) will be able to prevent tooth decay from developing.

Information is perhaps the most powerful tool there is in preventive medicine. In my continuing effort to provide relevant information on how to care for your teeth and prevent decay no matter where you live or what kind of water you drink, I have created several informational resources that I hope you will take the time to review for your own health and the health of your children.

Kids and Cavities
How to Brush and Floss Your Teeth
A Parent’s Guide to Oral Health for Kids and Teens
Drinks That Eat Teeth
A Guide to Added Sweeteners

As always, I encourage you to read and learn as much as you can from as many reputable sources as possible in order to make the best decisions possible for yourself and your family.

Martha (Signature)

Sugar Has No Place in Your Diet

It’s not popular to say that sugar and refined carbohydrates should be eliminated from everyone’s diet. So many of our holiday and cultural traditions revolve around sugar, and for many people a sugary treat is often used as a reward or a temporary escape from stress. But the hard truth is that sugar and refined carbohydrates have absolutely no nutritive value. Even the USDA has removed sweets & refined sugar from its dietary recommendations because fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins contain all the necessary nutrients a body needs to thrive – no added sugar necessary. In fact, the days when we could consider a sweet tooth as an innocent indulgence are over. More and more scientific evidence is building to suggest that even slightly elevated levels of blood sugar still within the normal range can have drastic consequences for our health.

As a dentist, I’ve been advocating for low- and no-sugar diets my entire career. Tooth decay has obviously been my primary concern, but as we all know, everything in the body is connected. If simple carbs and refined sugar create an environment in the mouth where pathogenic bacteria can thrive, what is happening in the rest of the body when that sugar enters the bloodstream as an excess of glucose? Obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, behavioral issues, and even cancer and mental deterioration have all been linked to high blood sugar in recent years.

In the January 2013 issue of Alternatives For the Health Conscious Individual, Dr. David Williams reviews several blood sugar studies performed in the last decade. The most compelling of these suggest that subjects demonstrating even slightly elevated blood sugar levels still considered within the “normal” range are showing drastic increases in the incidences of cancer and Alzheimer’s as compared to similar subjects with lower overall blood sugar levels.

We’ve all begun to understand the disastrous effects that high blood sugar can have on the endocrine system in the form of type II diabetes, and the cause-effect relationship is very clear in that case. It is not at all clear that elevated blood sugar levels cause cancer, but we do know that even slightly elevated levels don’t help. And there is growing evidence to suggest a strong enough relationship between Alzheimer’s and blood sugar that many researchers are starting to refer to Alzheimer’s as type III diabetes.

But diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates don’t just contribute to blood sugar disorders and the risk factors that go with them – they also have another very serious complication: weight gain. Carrying additional weight, especially in the midsection of the body, is a tremendous strain on the cardiovascular system as well as the joints and muscles. Overweight individuals automatically carry a higher risk factor for insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even depression. HBO recently released an excellent series on weight and diet that is available for free online here. If you have not yet watched this important series on obesity in America, I strongly urge you to do so for your own health and the health of your family.

All of this information is simply too important to ignore. Every one of us needs to understand and make use of it in order to make the healthiest changes to the way we eat and to the way we feed our children. To help you get started, I have compiled a resource article on the subject entitled Sugar and Your Body. It is my hope that this article will provide you with a solid base of information and serve as a stepping stone to other valuable resources that will help you feed your body in the most healing and nutritive ways possible.

Martha (Signature)

is sugar toxic?

Recently, 60 Minutes ran a story reporting on the increasing evidence that the consumption of excess sugar may not only be contributing to the obvious epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes in this country, but also to hypertension, heart disease, and even cancer. Sugar, as it is now being discovered, may even be as addictive as cocaine – causing overeaters to build up a tolerance and require more and more sugar in order to maintain the same pleasurable effects in the brain.

In fact, as it is reported by 60 Minutes, at least 75% of the disease now being associated with the over-consumption of sugar is preventable with simple dietary changes. But there is one disease that is left off that list over and over again, a disease that is equally important, and left unchecked can spiral into a perpetual condition that spreads disease throughout the body and, in extreme cases, may even lead to death. That disease is tooth decay.

The mouth is a barometer for the body. If there is enough sugar and acid in the mouth to cause decay, then there is too much sugar and acid in the body as well. A cavity is not just an indication that you should brush and floss your teeth more – it’s the body’s warning signal that something in your diet is out of balance enough to allow pathogenic cells and bacteria to thrive.

We all eat more sugar than we should, but we also often eat far more sugar than we are aware of. This month, we have created two new resources to help you make better dietary choices and reduce the amount of added sugars you are consuming. A Guide to Added Sweeteners offers information on how different forms of sugar affect your body and how to recognize each of them on nutrition labels; and Drinks That Eat Teeth will help you understand exactly how much additional sugar and acid you are consuming in just one soda, juice, or energy drink.

In my practice, I have seen many patients who require full-mouth reconstructions based solely on a habit of sipping soda all day long. But not everyone can afford this kind of dental treatment, and many people in this country loose their teeth to decay without any way to replace them. The ability to chew is one of the most important components of gaining proper nutrition. Without it, we must eat food that is softened and processed to the point that the fiber and vital nutrients necessary to optimal health are lost. Time and again, I see people struggling with this cycle in my work with the Medical Teams International Dental Van, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Dental decay is 95% preventable through diet and simple brushing and flossing techniques, and an additional 3-4 % can be prevented with well-placed preventive resins or sealants. I urge you to take a closer look at the added sugars in your diet and to do everything you can to eliminate them. Your teeth and your body will thank you for it.

Martha (Signature)