We all know – for we’ve heard it often enough – that sugar causes tooth decay (among a host of other health problems). That’s because it’s the preferred food of oral pathogens – bacteria such as S. mutans, fungi such as Candida and others. Their metabolic activity – eating, eliminating and multiplying – creates acidic byproducts that eat into the hard enamel coating the teeth.
Sugar also interferes with your body’s natural defense systems. For instance, as we’ve noted before, sugar reverses the flow of dentinal fluid within your teeth, pulling “bad bugs” and their metabolic waste into the tooth instead of repelling them as they do under neutral conditions.
But ask the average person how to prevent cavities, and you’ll likely hear something like “brush your teeth.” Ask the average dentist, and you may hear talk of fluoride and sealants.
What you don’t often hear is the more logical and straightforward answer: Stop feeding the bad guys; quit the sugar.
And now a recent paper in PLOS Medicine explains a good chunk of the why: The sugar industry wanted it this way.
Analyzing internal industry documents, the researchers looked at how the sugar biz shaped research priorities for the National Institute of Dental Research’s [NIDR] with respect to treating and preventing caries (cavities).
The sugar industry could not deny the role of sucrose in dental caries given the scientific evidence. They therefore adopted a strategy to deflect attention to public health interventions that would reduce the harms of sugar consumption rather than restricting intake… Seventy-eight percent of the sugar industry submission was incorporated into the NIDR’s call for research applications. Research that could have been harmful to sugar industry interests was omitted from priorities identified at the launch of the NCP [National Caries Program]. (emphasis added)
“Prevention” became more a matter of defense, aiming to minimize damage rather than directly address the cause of that damage. To pursue the latter was apparently deemed “unrealistic.” Here’s how one NIDR official cited in the PLOS paper put it:
One could say, on logical grounds and good evidence, that if we could eliminate the consumption of sucrose, we could eliminate the problem—because we would be denying these pathogens their primary source of nutrient. We are realists, however…. So while it is theoretically possible to take this approach to demonstrate it, and it has been demonstrated certainly in animal models, it is not practical as a public health measure.
You might ask, “Practical for who?” The only winner in this situation was Big Sugar, protecting their bottom line.
If all this sounds a little familiar to you, it should. It’s straight out of the Big Tobacco playbook. According to Stanton Glantz, a co-author on the sugar paper who rose to prominence by exposing Big Tobacco’s deliberate attempts at deception,
These tactics are strikingly similar to what we saw in the tobacco industry in the same era. Our findings are a wake-up call for government officials charged with protecting the public health, as well as public health advocates, to understand that the sugar industry, like the tobacco industry, seeks to protect profits over public health.
Of course, Glantz and his colleagues are hardly the first to reveal sugar as a public health threat. Just a few years ago, Dr. Robert Lustig gained notoriety through his Nature article in which he discussed sugar as a toxin needing regulation similar to that of alcohol and tobacco.
For a deeper look into how big business tends to spin science to protect their own profits, check out the new documentary Merchants of Doubt – an engaging and informative based on the book of the same name.
For more on the PLOS paper and sugar in general, see Dr. Mercola’s recent article on sugar industry manipulations.
Image by Bart, via Flickr