You don’t need to be a family dentist in Tigard to know the risk consuming too much sugar presents to the long-term health of teeth. While many of us heard as kids that eating sugar would rot our teeth, that’s only part of the story. Plaque, a sticky biofilm made mostly of germs, uses the sugars we consume to produce acids that slowly erode tooth enamel. The more sugar we consume the more damage plaque does to the health of our teeth. This is why many people associate eating sugar with cavities.
While consuming too much sugar is bad enough for adults, it’s especially damaging for kids whose oral health is still in development. Roughly 42 percent of kids between the ages of 2 to 11 have develop cavities in their primary, or baby, teeth, which helps to establish a poor base for their oral health to continue developing from.
Now, a new study shows that the exposure kids have to sugar may be worse than the prevalence of cavities suggests. According to researchers, children in the U.S. begin consuming added sugar at very young ages and that many toddlers consume more sugar a day than what is the maximum amount recommended for adults.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 99 percent of a representative sample of kids between the ages of 19 to 23 months consumed an average of 7 teaspoons of added sugar a day; an amount greater than what’s found in the average candy bar. Approximately 60 percent of the kids examined in the study were found to have started consuming added sugars before the age of 1.
The Health Risks of Sugar Consumption
Added sugars are the sugars and syrups that are added to foods and drinks when processed and prepared. When calculating added sugars you don’t count the sugars naturally found in items like milk and fruits. The most common sources for added sugar consumption comes in the form of beverages like sodas, sport drinks, and energy drinks.
Increased sugar consumption has been previously linked to a variety of health problems, such as cavities, obesity, asthma, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. Eating foods processed with added sugar can also influence a child’s food preferences, potentially leading to them making less healthy food choices later in life, say researchers.
This study marks the first time the CDC has examined the rates of added sugar consumption in kids 2 and younger. The results of their study, however, show that added sugar consumption starts at an early age and far exceeds what is currently recommended.
No chemical difference exists between sugars found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and milk and those added artificially to processed foods. The body metabolizes both types of sugars the same way. However, added sugars are considered more damaging to our health because they displace nutritional components found naturally in foods and the contribute significantly to the number of calories kids and adults consume daily.
A Rise in Sugar Consumption
As part of their study, researchers examined data collected on more than 800 infants and toddlers between the ages of 6 to 23 months who participated in the 2011-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
In the survey, parents were asked to record everything their child consumed over a 24-hour period. To determine the amount of added sugars, researchers counted any calorie-containing sugars that were added to a food item, including high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, honey, and any other forms of sugar. The study did not calculate any artificial zero-calorie sweeteners or sugars that occur naturally.
The results of the study found that 85 percent of infant and toddler aged children were consuming added sugar on a daily basis. The older the kids became, the more sugar they consumed. Between the ages of 6 to 11 months, slightly more than 60 percent of babies consumed added sugar on any given day, averaging slightly under 1 teaspoon. Among kids between the ages of 12 to 18 months, 98 percent consumed added sugar, averaging 5.5 teaspoons a day. By 19 to 23 months, the amount of added sugar consumed climbed to just over 7 teaspoons a day.
Currently, the daily recommended limit for added sugar consumption is 6 teaspoons or less per day for kids aged 2 to 19 and for adult women, while the recommended amount for men is less than 9 teaspoons a day. Previous research has suggested the most Americans exceed that amount.
The results of this study suggest a troubling trend. As a family dentist in Tigard, Dr. Han wants his patients to understand the risks that come from excessive sugar consumption. While it might be hard to deprive your kids of some of their favorite foods and drinks at a young age, limiting their exposure to sugar will go a long way towards helping to improve their oral health, now and into the future.