Call for action on cutting sugar

December 11, 2013, Newcastle University

A study by Newcastle University researchers into the effects of sugars on our oral health recommends cutting down on the sweet additive as part of a global initiative to reduce tooth decay.

Since 1990 the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that intake of "free sugars" should be less than 10% of total energy (calorie) intake. Free sugars are sugars that are added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer; plus those naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.

The Newcastle University study, commissioned by the WHO and published today in the Journal of Dental Research recognises the benefit of this threshold, by showing that when less than 10% of total calories in the diet is made up of free sugars there are much lower levels of tooth decay. And the research findings go even further, suggesting that halving this threshold for sugars to less than 5% of calories – around five teaspoons a day - would bring further benefits, minimising the risk of dental cavities throughout life.

Halve the sugars to keep teeth for life

Professor Paula Moynihan, Professor of Nutrition and Oral Health at Newcastle University said: "People now expect to keep their teeth into old age and given that the effects of sugars on our teeth are lifelong then limiting sugars to less than 5% of the calories we eat would minimise the risk of throughout life.

"In the past, judgements on recommended levels of free sugars intake were made based on levels associated with an average of three or fewer decayed teeth in 12 year olds. However, tooth decay is a progressive disease - by looking at patterns of tooth decay in populations over time, we now know that children with less than three cavities at age 12, go on to develop a high number of cavities in adulthood.

"Part of the problem is that sugary foods and drinks are now staples in many people's diet in industrialised countries, whereas once they were an occasional treat for a birthday or Christmas. We need to reverse this trend."

Considering the studies which examined the influence of fluoride, the experts found that while it does protect teeth, people living in areas with fluoridated water and or using fluoride toothpaste still got dental caries. Professor Moynihan explained: "Fluoride undoubtedly protects the teeth against decay but it does not eliminate tooth decay and it does not get rid of the cause – dietary sugars. Moreover, not everyone has good exposure to fluoride through drinking water and or toothpastes containing fluoride."

Funded by Newcastle University's Centre for Oral Health Research, Professor Paula Moynihan, Professor of Nutrition and Oral Health at Newcastle University and Dr Sarah Kelly (now at Cambridge University) scrutinised all the studies which had looked at relationships between amount of sugars consumed and levels of dental caries (). They found 55 relevant studies worldwide, dating back to 1950.

The robust systematic review considered the overall quality of evidence using the GRADE process (Grading of Recommendations Assessment Development and Evaluation system GRADE working group 2004) which takes into consideration factors including the consistency of results across the available studies, the size of effect, evidence of a dose response and the strength of association. Combined analysis of the data was limited because of the variation in how the data were reported but there was strong consistency across studies and evidence of a large size effect.

Professor Moynihan added: "The public need better information on the health risks of sugary foods and drinks and there needs to be clearer information on the levels of sugars in our foods and drinks. We need to make it easier for people to make healthier choices when it comes to sugars by ensuring that options lower in added sugars are made widely available in schools, shops and the workplace."

Explore further: Fluoride treatments may help fight cavities

More information: Effect on Caries of Restricting Sugars Intake: Systematic Review to Inform WHO Guidelines. P.J. Moynihan and S.A.M. Kelly. Journal of Dental Research, 0022034513508954, first published on December 9, 2013. jdr.sagepub.com/content/early/ … 34513508954.abstract

Related Stories

Fluoride treatments may help fight cavities

November 1, 2013
(HealthDay)—Applying prescription-strength fluoride directly to the teeth can benefit patients at increased risk for cavities, a new expert panel concludes.

Primary care docs should play role in kids' dental health, experts say

May 21, 2013
(HealthDay)—When it comes to the care of your children's teeth, dentists aren't the only experts who can help.

Halloween treats can spook kids' teeth

October 30, 2013
(HealthDay)—Halloween can have frightful effects on children's teeth if parents aren't careful, experts warn.

Sweet drinks need tooth decay warning

January 30, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers from the University of Adelaide say any health warnings about soft drinks should include the risk of tooth decay, following a new study that looks at the consumption of sweet drinks and fluoridated ...

Recommended for you

Painless dental lasers can render teeth cavity-resistant

November 21, 2017
Almost as soon as lasers were invented in the 1960s, curious dentists wondered if these powerful forms of light could be used on teeth, though those early lasers were much too crude for any useful dental work.

Nanodiamonds show promise for aiding recovery from root canal

October 23, 2017
People who undergo root canals may soon have a tiny but powerful ally that could prevent infection after treatment.

Research shows aspirin could repair tooth decay

September 8, 2017
Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have discovered that aspirin could reverse the effects of tooth decay resulting in a reduction in the need for fillings. Currently about 7 million fillings are provided by the NHS ...

New dental imaging method uses squid ink to fish for gum disease

September 7, 2017
Squid ink might be a great ingredient to make black pasta, but it could also one day make getting checked for gum disease at the dentist less tedious and even painless. By combining squid ink with light and ultrasound, a ...

A new dental restoration composite proves more durable than the conventional material

August 21, 2017
Fewer trips to the dentist may be in your future, and you have mussels to thank.

Small molecule inhibitor prevents or impedes tooth cavities in a preclinical model

August 10, 2017
University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers have created a small molecule that prevents or impedes tooth cavities in a preclinical model. The inhibitor blocks the function of a key virulence enzyme in an oral bacterium, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.