Sugar: the New Cocaine

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Just Say “No”

Soft drinks! Fruit drinks! Candy! Kids love it. Kids love it all. What are they full of? Sugar!

Oh, and those “healthy smoothies.” They’re fruit smoothies, right? And they put vitamins in them, right? Well, they turn out to be vitamin enriched, extra-large cups of sugar.

What about bread? It’s good to eat your grains, right? High fructose corn syrup (a form of sugar) is in most bread. It’s in your sauces. It’s in almost everything. Even that low-fat chocolate milk your child drinks with his lunch. And don’t think baby is exempt! There just might be as much sugar in your baby formula as there is in that can of soda.

What makes sugar such a difficult problem? It’s addictive. It’s even addictive in the same way cocaine is. Sugar stimulates the exact same pleasure center of the brain. Have you’ve ever tried to break your sugar addiction? You may  have experienced something like withdrawals! Which probably surprised you, because we don’t think of sugar as having that kind of control over our body. But it does. We love it. You, and your children, are hooked on it. So much so, that on average, each of us are consuming more than 140 pounds of sugar per year.

No wonder our general health is so poor! Sugar is in everything being marketed to us. Everything convenient, cheap, and yes, even so-called healthy foods can be chock full of sugar. And what does the dentist always tell you is bad for your teeth? Sugar! So, all of this sugar in our food spells disaster for our teeth (and immune system, and weight, and heart, ad infinitum).

What can you do? A good habit to begin is reading the ingredients of whatever you purchase and plan on eating. It’s easy to overlook. We simply don’t think about it. We don’t take the time to consider what’s in our food. We buy and eat without thinking. But we must start. And thankfully all products must have the ingredients listed. We don’t have to look very far! So simply flip the package over, and read the ingredients. You’ll very likely be shocked at how many food products contain sugar. You’ll probably find yourself thinking, “Is that even necessary? Why is there sugar in this?” The simple fact is, sugar sells, and the more harmful kinds are cheaper.

In addition to habitually reading the ingredients on the package, here’s a related hint: did you know that ingredients are listed from greatest to the least? That means the ingredient that comes first is the largest in quantity, and the further down you go the lesser quantity the ingredients are. How many foods do you regularly consume where sugar is at the top of the list? If you were go to your shelves, cupboard, or refrigerator right now and look, you might be surprised.

Here’s a way to recognize sugar in the ingredients: “OSE” = sugar. Glucose, fructose, lactose, and the really bad ones, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. Those are all sugars. Aside from fructose being toxic and detrimental to your overall health, we’re specifically concerned with the negative effects on our oral health.

What does sugar consumption mean for your mouth? Sugar provides a feast for oral bacteria. When they dive into their sugary treat, the by-product is acid. And acid is what eats away at the minerals in your teeth. Now you have tooth decay.

So here’s a wise rule of thumb: don’t eat anything with sugar in the top five spots of a list of ingredients. If you’re constantly consuming those foods, you’re constantly eating something that’s mostly sugar. Consequently, you’re making the bacteria in your mouth very happy, producing lots of acid, and demineralizing your tooth enamel.

What about your kids? This is USA Children’s Dental Foundation, after all.

What should you do if your child is eating sugary, tooth decaying foods? Rinse! Simply drinking water afterwards will help.

A big thing you can do is help your children develop their taste buds. Yes, it is possible. And in fact, it’s already happened! That’s why children gravitate towards sugary foods. Blame that sugar in the baby food and baby formula! The good news is, you can condition taste buds in the other direction, away from excessive and harmful sugars. Help your kids appreciate natural sweetness, present in whole foods.

So when you slowly do away with all of those high-sugar foods (sugar at the top of the ingredients list), the transition will be easier. Your children could appreciate already the natural flavor, without needing it enhanced by over-the-top sugar quantity. Sure, it won’t be a perfectly happy transition, but the benefits of healthy teeth and healthy smile will be well worth the effort. It’s truly a long-term investment.

Why should you trust or listen to us? We are a unique and to our knowledge the only national children’s dental foundation of our kind. We are a 501(c)(3), which is a non-profit, run exclusively by the parents, for the benefit of the children.

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Future Articles:

  • 2 Steps to Get Your Child Flossing
  • Ask the Dentist to Explain
  • Who Owns Your Pediatric Dentist?
  • Don’t Lie to the Dentist
  • Children’s dental disease connection with Respiratory Disease
  • Children’s dental disease connection with Heart Disease
  • Children’s dental disease connection with Osteoporosis
  • Mom’s dental disease connection with premature birth

If you have concerns, from how to find a dentist, how to know when to get a second opinion, how dental disease affects your children’s health, please submit a request via comment or email.

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