Although there are a few benefits to added sugars in the diet – they’re a good source of essential energy, for example, and potentially pose a lesser threat to health than factory-derived sweeteners – dentists should still be advising patients to minimize the amount of sugar that they consume on a day-to-day basis. The obvious reason for dentists giving this advice to their patients is because sugar can cause cavities to develop. However, as more and more research becomes available, and as we begin to understand more about the role of added sugars, we can see how sugar can affect other aspects of health, too. The fight against sugar is continuing, and we need to be ready to provide the best advice.
Why We’re Fighting Sugar
Added sugars in the foods we eat can greatly increase the risk not only of oral diseases, but of other conditions and illnesses, too. Sugar is known to raise blood pressure and lower levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the body, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, even in children.
Sugar is also very closely associated with the development of cancerous tumors in the body. The high calorie content of sugar can contribute towards obesity, for example, and people who are overweight are believed to be at greater risk of cancers such as kidney cancer, thyroid cancer, and gallbladder cancer. Similarly, sugar promotes the production of insulin, and those with high insulin levels may be more at risk for cancers such as colon cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and particularly breast cancer.
Perhaps even more worrying for parents is that high sugar intake has been linked to obsessive behaviors, such as bingeing, craving, and deprivation. Research shows that girls aged between 6 and 12 are statistically most likely to be concerned about their weight, and are at highest risk for developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, or bulimia. Additionally, sugar has been likened to a ‘gateway drug’, opening up doors to other dangerous addictions, like alcohol addiction or drug dependence.
Current guidelines state that no more than 10 percent of daily energy should come from added sugars, although the World Health Organization says that bringing this down to 5 percent could bring with it additional health benefits. Unfortunately, as a nation, we’re failing to meet these targets, with studies finding that the average American gets between 14 and 17 percent of their daily energy from sugars.
One of the latest organizations to back these guidelines is the American Heart Association, who say that men should be having no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day, and women no more than 6. They also recommend looking for ‘hidden’ sugars in foods which may appear on labels under misleading names, such as ‘fructose’, ‘molasses’, ‘sweetener’, ‘syrup’, ‘honey’, and ‘fruit juice concentrates’.
As an increasing amount of research is being taken on the health effects of added sugars, we can reasonably expect the published guidelines to change to reflect the latest findings. As dentists, it is important to stay up-to-date on the available information to ensure you’re always able to pass on the best advice to your patients, helping them to keep their teeth, their bodies, and their minds healthy.