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Is Your "Sweet Tooth" Harming Your Oral Health?

Some people really are born with a "sweet tooth" (like my son, Jack - and he can show you exactly which tooth is his "sweet" one). I know kids are biologically programmed to prefer a higher level of sweetness than adults, but why do some adults never outgrow that preference? It's true that emotions such as stress, recollection of the sensory pleasure of eating your grandmothers apple pie, or environmental factors like poor sleep, can increase our desire for a sugar rush. But new research suggests some of us—much more than others—may also be genetically "wired" to crave sugar.

In one study, scientists scoured the genes of more than 6,500 Danish people and found those who had particular variants of a gene were roughly 20 percent more likely to enjoy and seek out sugary substances. Subjects who reported strong sugar preferences, and consumed more of it, were also more likely to drink alcohol and smoke on a daily basis. In another study, scientists identified a gene that influences dopamine function. Those are the same pathways linked to happiness as well as addiction. They found that some foods high in sugar act as a form of drug on these brain pathways. In still another study, people with specific genetic variations are born with a weaker sweet taste, meaning they may need more sugar than others to taste the same level of sweetness.

The Impact of Sugar on our Dental and Overall Health

Sugars in food and drinks play a major role in the development of tooth decay or "dental caries". Plaque, a sticky film that can start to form on our teeth as little as five minutes after it's removed, contains bacteria. The bacteria use the sugar we consume as energy, and release acid as a waste product. This acid is responsible for tooth decay because, if not removed, it slowly dissolves the enamel creating holes or cavities in the teeth.

Yet, tooth decay is not the only problem with excess sugar consumption. We all know it can cause weight gain that leads to obesity. Excess sugar also sets the stage for disease in other ways - by elevating cholesterol, deregulating the body’s insulin monitor, and compromising our vitamin and mineral intake. Studies show that young children who consume too much added sugar overall—even two sweetened beverages daily—are at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, or both. One recent report from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine discovered that 3- to 11-year-olds who drink about 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages daily have significantly higher levels of C-reactive protein, an indicator of harmful inflammation in their organs and tissues—compared with children who skipped these sugary drinks. The impact of excess sugar in our society is doing monumental damage to our oral and systemic health.

Are You Doomed To A Life of Cavities?

Even though a genetic variant may play some part in the development of your “sweet tooth” we don't believe you are doomed to a life of cavities or obesity. It just may be harder for you to make dietary changes. Here are a few we're working on at our house:

  • Understanding food labels. It's hard to reduce sugar because it goes by so many different names. Here are a few: High Fructose Corn syrup, Coconut Palm Sugar, Maple Syrup, Evaporated Cane Juice, Honey, Brown Rice Syrup, Agave Syrup, Juice Concentrates, and Maltose/Dextrose. 
  • Eliminating sugary drinks such as juice, soda, flavored milk and energy drinks. A glass of lemonade or tea can have 25 grams - or 6 teaspoons of sugar. Water is the best way to quench your thirst. 
  • Counting sugar grams throughout the day to understand exactly how much sugar we (and our kids) are consuming. Significant amounts of sugar are "hidden" in many common products - ketchup, sauces, spreads, "healthy" breakfast cereals, even chicken broth. 
  • Desert is for special occasions - no more than once a week - and then just a little. 

Eating too many sweets was often seen as a personal weakness - but that's no longer the case. If you have trouble making any dietary changes, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist for ideas, tips and a referral that may help you. And as always, brush at least twice a day, floss daily, and come in to see us at

Jeff M. Morrison & Assoc., DDS

for regularly scheduled dental hygiene appointments. Is it time for your check-up? Give us a call at 919 755 3450 or schedule