Dental health and consuming too much added sugar are intrinsically linked. And the adverse impact on our pearly whites is very real and very preventable.
Day-to-day, children and adults alike around the globe contend with discomfort, pain, and cost associated with dental caries, gum inflammation and losing teeth.
Good dental hygiene is a must for maintaining a good set of chompers; and worldwide, excess added sugar consumption is also a critical factor.
According to a recent study, dental treatment costs are currently running at around $172 billion US (€128 billion) globally, with the largest share – $151 billion US – in OECD countries.1
To ascertain any association between high added sugar consumption and dental treatment, researchers compared data from 168 countries during 2010 that covered the prevalence of caries, periodontitis and tooth loss; the consequent costs of treatment and disease burden; and added sugar consumption.
Included in the data for sugar consumed was all those added sugars often hidden in packaged foods such as tomato sauce and bread, as well as including the more obvious sources of sugar such as white sugar, soft drink, ice cream and pastries.
What did the researchers find?
26.3% of total global oral disease burden is attributed to consumption of added sugars.
“For every additional 25 grams of sugar consumed per person and day – which amounts to roughly eight sugar-cubes or a glass of sweetened lemonade – the costs of dental treatment in high-income countries increase on average by 100 US dollars (75 euros) per person and year,” said lead researcher, Dr Toni Meier.
“The data shows a clear correlation between the consumption of sugar and the incidence of caries, parodontitis and, as a result, tooth loss.”
In Australia, the researchers observed for the population of 22 million people in 2010 a cost of nearly $140 US per person related to dental disease.
According to the F.A.O. statistics used by the researchers, in 2010 Aussies on average were consuming nearly 387kcal (1,620kj) of added sugar each day.2
Assuming the average daily energy intake for each person is 2,000cal (8,700 kj) per day, this amount of added sugar equates to around 4x the recommended upper limit of 5% for added sugar intake at nearly 100g each day – well beyond the 6 teaspoons (25g) recommended daily limit.3 Yikes.
Developing countries need to act
However, despite OECD countries being the hardest hit economically by dental disease, developing countries aren’t free from the burden. The researchers found Guatemala, Mauretania and Mexico were the countries with the highest levels of sugar-related dental illness, and suggest tackling this early on to avoid inevitable future healthcare costs.
“Newly industrialised countries such as India, Brazil and Mexico, but also Pakistan and Egypt, could avoid an excessive burden of illness and of health care costs by anchoring the topic in their health and nutritional policies at an early stage,” said the co-author of the study and nutrition scientist Professor Gabriele Stangl.
Limiting added sugar intake can be very tricky. It is highly prevalent in most packaged food and drinks, and unless you make nearly everything you eat and drink from scratch, one has to become very well versed in reading labels to get an idea of how much added sugar they are consuming.
In order to prevent and educate the public on nutrition-related illness, government and industry will need to work together to form policy around tackling the rise in nutrition-related diseases; providing greater education around topics such as nutrition, cooking and dental care; reducing the amount of added sugar in processed and packaged foods; making added sugar amounts more obvious on nutrition labels; and ensuring fresh, whole real food is more accessible and affordable.
While government and industry can do much, as individuals we must also take charge of our own health and what we choose to put into our mouths.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)
- Meier, T Deumelandt, P Christen, O Stangl, GI Riedel, K & Langer, M 2017, “Global Burden of Sugar-Related Dental Diseases in 168 Countries and Corresponding Health Care Costs”, Journal of Dental Research, vol 96, no. 8, pp. 845 – 854.
- Stat, F.A.O. 2017, “Food balance sheets”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, accessed 5 September 2017, <http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/FBS>
- WHO 2015, “Information note about intake of sugars recommended in the WHO guideline for adults and children”, World Health Organisation, viewed 5 September 2017 <http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/guidelines/sugar_intake_information_note_en.pdf>