The truth behind those ‘treats’

Image taken from this rather marvelous webpage

Food guilt is quite high on my guilt list, only marginally underneath Shouting At Them Guilt and Watched Too Much Telly Guilt.  How often the children eat.  How much they eat.  What they should eat. What they shouldn’t eat.

I have BIG guilt over what I don’t allow them to eat or drink due to my profession – saying that, my 3 year old daughter still eats 3 times over the recommended daily sugar intake just from sugars in food and an occasional bit of chocolate – that’s how easy it is to consume sugar in our diets today.

I know that there will come a time that I can no longer control it and instead of rebelling by smoking and getting pregnant at 15, my kids will probably start a sugar-only campaign until their dentition resembles that of a crack addict.  Just to spite me.

Tooth decay in children is a bit of a bugger though.  It contributes to days off at school, can cause disruption to how adult teeth develop and erupt and fillings in permanent teeth can reduce the life expectancy of that tooth quite drastically. Here’s a little paragraph from my resident dental expert, Dr Al Ginate explaining how:

So, basically it’s down to the size of the filling.  The bigger it is, the more chance the pulp gets damaged, thus decreasing it’s life expectancy. Ability to keep it clean is also important because if bacteria gets in between the filling and the tooth it won’t last long and a new filling will need to be placed, thus increasing the size of the cavity and decreasing the prognosis further. A filling badly done also decreases the life span of the tooth. If it’s improperly sealed, the bacteria will race in. If it’s not smooth around the gum line, the bacteria can get stuck under the ledge and inflame the gums, causing gum disease, bone loss and loss of tooth support. Bye bye tooth!

In my training we had to learn about The Vipeholm Study.  We had to study it with such intensity that if we weren’t able to randomly recite Vipeholm fact like Father Jack politely requesting an alcoholic beverage, then we were coshed over the head and our lifeless bodies dragged to the ‘probe’ room. I exaggerate slightly. Only slightly.

It was a pivotal 10 year study between 1945-55 that took place in Sweden, in a home for the “uneducable mentally deficient”.  It was one of the first taxpayer funded scientific studies and no official consent was obtained to experiment on the residents.  It would never be allowed today and caused a huge outcry at the time (or after the data was released) but what it discovered, to the detriment to many of the 436 residents involved, paved the way for tooth decay theory which is still of paramount importance in oral health education today.

Sugar was added in a variety of ways to the diet of 436 patients.  It was dissolved in drinks, baked into bread and added to plain chocolate. Other methods of administering sugar was via varying amount of toffees or caramels over the course of a day, either with a meal or in between meals.  Control patients were given fats instead of sugar to compensate for calorie consumption.  Saliva samples were taken every 15 minutes through the day and analysed for sugar and acid levels.

I dread to think what havoc all the extra calories had on their weight, and the sugar crashes on their mental wellbeing, when all of them were already classed as “mentally inept”.  The amounts of sugar being added to their diets were between 12 teaspoons to 75 teaspoons per resident, per day, depending on which group they belonged to.

Sadly, it is estimated that 2,125 tooth cavities were induced in a time when there was no dental care available to the residents.  No doubt then, they also experienced a lot of pain and probably went on to develop type II diabetes.

What was learnt from this?  Well, they confirmed that sugar caused tooth decay but it wasn’t the amount of sugar, it was the frequency of sugar that really created cavity carnage.  Not just that though, but the consistency of sugar also made a significant contribution to the decay rates.  Those that were eating toffees and caramels suffered the most because the stickiness meant it increased contact time on the teeth.

As well as the caramels and toffees already mentioned, here is my top five contributors to tooth death list:

1.  Lolly pops.  They take a long time to eat, are sucked and kept in the mouth for considerable amounts of time and when crunched get stuck in all the fissures of the teeth.  Perfecto tooth destroyers.

2.  Jelly sweets.  Loaded with sugar, a few mood enhancing E numbers with an added bit of sticky.  Hello bacteria poo. Bye bye enamel. Hello holes.

3.  Boiled sweets.  Sucked and held in the mouth for long periods, and usually in one particular area.  If crunched, bacteria food heaven will be deposited in all the nooks and crannies.  Nom nom nom.  Big, fat, acid-shitting bacteria.

4.  Biscuits.  When eaten, they become a bolus of squidgey, sugary goo, that cakes itself all over the teeth and gets stuck in all the places it shouldn’t.  Yup, acidic faecal matter spreading itself all over those beautiful pearly whites.

5.  Soft drinks.  Full of crap.  Makes bacteria crap. Makes your tooth enamel look like crap.  Just crap.

WARNING: The next paragraph is going to be the most guilt-laden words ever written on EBT&T.  I’m sorry but I’m going to have to say it…

Next time you ‘treat’ your little one to tooth death, think about how much of a ‘treat’ it actually is.  Their lives won’t be left lacking without it and there are lots of other things that can be used as bribes/treats/thankyous/rewards.  Just have a look in the craft section of your local Pound shop to find inspiration.  Cheap, tacky but kids love that kind of tat and so do their teeth.

Make all the pain and suffering caused by the unethical experiment worth it and shun those sugary snacks….too far?  Ok, perhaps just save them for a mealtime instead.

(*Whispers* For more toothy blogs, check out the TEETH archive.)

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