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Halloween, sugar tax and dental decay

By : on : 30th October 2015 comments : (Comments Off on Halloween, sugar tax and dental decay)

Halloween celebrations seem to be getting more popular year on year in the UK and almost approaching the serious levels of festivities in the states where it marks the start of their holiday period with Thanksgiving just around the corner.


It seems to me that you are forced to join in the festivities just to avoid getting your cars trashed or your property defaced if you don’t play ball and give out sweets. Living on a busy road does not help as some years we get waves of trick or treaters’ and I am pretty sure that some return more than once!

All the talk at the moment is that of a “Sugar Tax” and the impact it would have on health with various countries such as Mexico imposing a tax on sugary foods and drinks in an effort to reduce their obesity and health problems. The introduction of the tax cut sugary drink consumption by 6% in Mexico and this was deemed a success by their health department while their treasury called it a failure.

Public Health England, the agency in charge of our nation’s health, also agrees that we are eating far too much sugar and recommends a reduced daily intake of sugar (5% of total energy) to save lives from weight related diseases and cut tooth decay as well as save the NHS £576 million a year.

Now we know that Jamie Oliver wants this tax while David Cameroon is not too keen on this but what does the intake of sugar mean for you and your teeth especially?

What is dental decay?

Teeth rot or decay when sugars in foods and drinks react with bacteria in plaque to form acids that eat away or dissolve your teeth. Once the acids are formed they soften and dissolve the Enamel or outer surface of the teeth and when the process is more established the inner core or Dentine of the tooth is attacked. This process continues for an hour after you eat the sugary food or drink and is only neutralised or buffered by your natural saliva which then re-mineralises the enamel and hardens it again.

dental-decayUnfortunately it is not just sugars that are harmful but other types of carbohydrates and drinks also react with the plaque bacteria to form acids and cause tooth decay. These are the “fermentable” carbohydrates found hidden in many processed foods and cooked starches as well as those natural sugars found in fruits such as sucrose, maltose and fructose.


Diet Drinks: Are they better for your teeth?

While diet drinks contain artificial sweeteners that don’t cause decay of your teeth per say , these drinks can still have a harmful effect on your teeth as they still contain an acid within them that causes your teeth to erode. Erosion can occur from acidic drinks in general and even from herbal fruit teas and the process means the outer layer of the tooth enamel dissolves away.

How long does the dental decay process take?

Every time you have a sugary food or drink the decay process will continue on average for an hour afterwards and if you continue to snack with unhealthy foods between meals then the likelihood is that the decay process will continue all day.

Five is an important number it seems as the government advises you to have your health 5 per day of fruits and vegetables and 5 is also the magic number when it comes to tooth decay. Generally if you consume more than 5 episodes of sugar per day you are likely to develop tooth decay.

What are the signs of dental decay?

Early on there are usually no symptoms but a dental examination can reveal the earliest lesion known as the “White spot lesion” in areas that can be seen while dental X-rays can show up decay in other areas that are not normally seen such as between the teeth.

Once a cavity progresses through to the dentine the tooth may become sensitive on eating sweet foods and drinks or anything acidic or hot. The pain does not last long but on further decay where the decay is getting close to the dental pulp or nerve of the tooth, the pain becomes a toothache and will usually persist for sometime after eating or drinking and it is essential that you visit your dentist before the decay reaches the nerve and the tooth will need more advanced treatments like root canal therapy.


tooth-decayAreas of teeth most likely to decay

While any part of the tooth can decay once exposed to the right environment, the most susceptible areas are the biting surfaces where the plaque bacteria lodge inside the deep crevices and fissures and those surfaces between the teeth which are quite often forgotten when it comes to cleaning your teeth.

Are fillings inevitable?

In its early stages the decay process can be reversed or the lesion re-mineralised using the application of fluoride to it either by the dentist or through a combination with the patient on a daily basis in conjunction with very good oral hygiene of the area. New modes of action available at the hands of the dentist involves removing the bacterial content of the lesion and injecting a resin material into it instead of a filling. The latter treatment is known as ICON but can only be used if the decay is still in the enamel layer so early intervention by your dentist is essential, hence the need for regular dental checks.

How to prevent dental decay

In children fissure sealants applied to adult molars soon after they erupt can greatly reduce the development of cavities on biting surfaces and the application of a concentrated fluoride gel regularly at the surgery for children with a high decay risk is also beneficial.

The best solution to the problem of decay is to prevent it by very good oral hygiene including brushing twice per day at night and morning with a fluoride tooth paste as well as using either floss or inter dental brushes for the surfaces between the teeth ideally prior to brushing.

  • Spit don’t rinse ensures that the fluoride toothpaste continues to work to re-mineralise teeth long after you stopped brushing especially overnight.
  • Reduce sugary and acidic food and drink intake and avoid snacking between meals.
  • Chew sugar free gum after meals for 20 minutes to stimulate more saliva which helps counteract the effects of any acids formed.

Finally and especially after your Halloween binge visit your dentist and hygienist to intercept early decay way before it becomes a cavity.

Munther Suleiman


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