Want to Beat Tooth Decay? Address the Cause

There are plenty of reasons to say no to fluoridation, but what about fluoride applied directly to the teeth?

If the idea is to prevent decay, a new study in the Journal of Dental Research suggests that, at best, it may minimize damage but not prevent it all together.

fluoride varnish For this study, researchers followed 1248 young, caries-free children over the course of three years. (“Caries” is the clinical term for tooth decay.) Half the kids got a “preventive package” of fluoride varnish, fluoride toothpaste, toothbrush, and standard dental education every 6 months. The other group got education only.

By the end of the study, 39% of the kids in the control group had developed caries. So had 34% of those who got fluoride.

The mean number of cavities was 9.6 in the control group…and 7.2 in the fluoride group.

The “success” of fluoride here is clearly underwhelming.

The trial had high retention and compliance rates but failed to demonstrate that it did keep children caries free. There is evidence from the trial that once children develop caries, the intervention does slow down its progression. [emphasis added]

So what if, instead of trying to mitigate damage we were to actually prevent it by addressing its cause?

That cause is, of course, the overconsumption of sugars. In the rush to fluoridate, this tends to be forgotten. As another paper in the JDR put it,

The importance of sugars as a cause of caries is underemphasized and not prominent in preventive strategies. This is despite overwhelming evidence of its unique role in causing a worldwide caries epidemic. Why this neglect? One reason is that researchers mistakenly consider caries to be a multifactorial disease; they also concentrate mainly on mitigating factors, particularly fluoride. However, this is to misunderstand that the only cause of caries is dietary sugars. These provide a substrate for cariogenic oral bacteria to flourish and to generate enamel-demineralizing acids. Modifying factors such as fluoride and dental hygiene would not be needed if we tackled the single cause—sugars. [emphasis added]

Other research suggests that caries can be prevented by limiting sugar intake to less than 3% of your total daily calories. (For a 2000-calorie per day diet, that’s just 60 calories or about 15.5 grams of sugar a day; for a 1500-calorie diet, a mere 45 calories or about 11.5 grams. To put that in perspective, there are 39 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola and 47 grams in a bag of Skittles.)

At the same time, increasing intake of nutrient-dense whole foods further supports your teeth’s natural ability to remineralize, protecting them from the oral pathogens (“bad bugs”) that cause decay. Toothpastes containing theobromine may also be helpful as a part of a good, overall home hygiene plan.

Bottom line? Decay and cavities are not inevitable. But preventing them isn’t up to fluoride. It’s up to you.

Image via healthcare-news

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