Sugar has spent a lot of time in the headlines over recent years. Thanks to some high profile public health campaigns, some significant changes have taken place. Sweets have now all but disappeared from supermarket checkouts and more recently, the so-called ‘sugar tax’ on fizzy drinks has been introduced across the UK.
But just how dangerous is sugar to our teeth and our health? Well, according to new research into the consumption of sugary drinks and tooth decay, the risks associated with excessive consumption are potentially catastrophic – to the point that researchers even identified an increased risk of death.
450,000 people were featured in the latest study, which included participants from countries across Europe including the United Kingdom, France and Spain. Researchers discovered that the likelihood of dying from heart disease, bowel disease and strokes was dramatically higher for people who regularly consumed two or more soft drinks a day.
According to Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, it is a stark reminder of the dangers of a diet with excessive levels of added sugar, and is of particular significance to the UK which, he adds, has one of the highest rates of sugar consumption worldwide.
“This study is a frightening eye-opener and reminds us that excessive amounts of sugar can be really harmful to our health.
“Added sugar is the main culprit when it comes to several major chronic diseases including tooth decay, diabetes and heart disease. The toll it takes simply cannot be ignored. More must be done to drive down sugar consumption and incentivise healthier alternatives.”
High levels of sugar consumption has been blamed for significant increases in both childhood tooth decay and obesity, which are now widespread issues in the UK.
Data from Public Health England reveals that in many instances children as young as ten have already consumed the equivalent of 18 years’ worth of sugar. A result of this is that tooth decay is now the most common chronic disease among society’s youngest members.
The dangers are not limited to sugar either. The research found that whilst sugary soft drinks were associated with deaths from digestive conditions, such as bowel disease,, artificially-sweetened or ‘diet’ soft drinks also carry risks. In particular, they were strongly linked to deaths from circulatory diseases, such as heart disease and strokes. From an oral health perspective, it is also important to understand that even sugar free drinks are often highly acidic, meaning that they can still prove disastrous for your teeth. The advice of dental professionals is to substitute such drinks with a natural replacement, ideally water, than a sugar free equivalent.
According to Dr Carter, maintaining a good oral hygiene regime is essential to promoting healthy teeth, but only when combined with a sensible diet. “Tooth brushing twice daily, with a fluoride toothpaste, is a crucial aspect of good oral health but it cannot prevent tooth decay caused by excessive sugar consumption”
“We must look after ourselves and make sure our diet reflects this. Plain still water is the best ‘tooth-friendly’ way of quenching thirst, without putting our health at risk.”
Although it is still in its early stages, The Oral Health Foundation believes the success of the sugar tax, introduced in April 2018, has demonstrated the impact that regulation can have on sugar consumption.
Dr Carter adds: “The sugar tax shows that government intervention is absolutely necessary for reducing the amount of sugar on supermarket shelves and in British homes. Tighter regulation, along with making healthier alternatives more financially affordable, are the next important steps in fixing the UK’s unhealthy relationship with sugar.”