Op-ed

No shortcuts for preventing tooth decay

Here’s some not-so-sweet news: Americans are consuming too much sugar. The American Heart Association reports that U.S. adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day, which is more than three times the recommended amount. Diets high in sugar can lead to tooth decay. Sugar is the most important factor in the development of dental caries.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that from 2011–2012, approximately 91 percent of adults age 20 to 64 had dental caries, and 27 percent of them were untreated. Dental caries is also the most common chronic disease for children and adolescents. In children age 5 to 11, one in five have at least one untreated decayed tooth.

The sugars we eat are also food for the bacteria in the oral cavity. Cariogenic bacteria metabolize these sugars and produce byproducts such as lactic acid. These metabolites lower the pH of the oral cavity and start tooth demineralization. The acidic environment also allows cariogenic bacteria to proliferate, exacerbating the process. Once enough damage is done, tooth structure will cavitate and no longer remineralize. For these reasons, the American Dental Association recommends limiting the frequency of sugar consumption.

Read the rest of this article in the November/December issue of Contour magazine.

~Jennifer Warznie, Michigan ’22

Jennifer Warznie

Jennifer Warznie attends University of Michigan School of Dentistry and will be graduating in 2022.

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