Monday, June 11, 2012

Sweet 16

Sweet 16

The number 16 is a special number for many reasons. It is the age at which most teens in America can legally get a driver’s license. It is also the magic number of basketball teams in the NCAA that make that elite status of being the Sweet Sixteen during March Madness. Then there is the Sweet Sixteen birthday party for many girls. Now, the number 16 is of special significance to the people of New York City, because Mayor Bloomberg announced recently that he is planning on banning the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.

I don’t want to turn this writing into a political commentary, but when it comes to a tooth-related issue, I have an opinion. Hearing a few minutes on the radio about this plan of the mayor’s sent me looking at his website, and the entire report on this pending legislation that was prepared by The Mayor’s Task Force On Obesity. ( The report is very straightforward. It states that, “Americans consume 200-300 more calories daily than 30 years ago, with the largest single increase due to sugary drinks.”  It went on to stress that “High consumption of sugary drinks is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.” The report immediately had me question what was their definition of “sugary drinks”? How did they come up with this size of 16 oz limit? And really, we are a free country, and as adults do we not have the right to drink whatever we want and as much of it as we like? (Although I wish people would drink less of this type of thing, I didn’t think a law should restrict it.)

I went on to read that the proposed plan defines sugary drinks as soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas and coffees, sweetened fruit drinks, vitamin water , and any other drink that had more than 25 calories per 8 oz serving. It also excludes diet beverages, unsweetened teas and coffees, alcohol, dairy drinks and any beverage that was over 70% fruit juice without added sweetener. Who would be restricted in selling these drinks in larger than 16 oz portions? Restaurants, movie theaters, street carts and sports arenas in New York City. What I learned from the study is that the serving size that is being offered to the public is the problem here. When drinks such as Coca-Cola first came out, the suggested serving size was 6 ounces.  Now bottles or cups of 16 oz are routinely sold as the medium or small size, and when offered, people will buy the 16 oz or larger and consume the entire portion.

I did a lot of thinking about this issue. I didn’t appear to be the only one, either. Most major news shows on television covered the story ( ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN) and The New York Times ran an Op-Ed by Daniel Lieberman on June 6, “Evolution’s Sweet Tooth”.

I encourage you to read this, along with the Mayor’s plan, and make some decisions for yourself. I can tell you what I have concluded from all of this. Government has its own reasons for limiting our sugar intake, and it seems those reasons stem from the fact that an overweight, unhealthy population costs them more than a healthy population. I am disappointed in the task force that was set up to tackle this agenda, in that they repeatedly take issue with fighting obesity and its consequences of diabetes and heart disease, but make no mention of sugar and tooth decay, which should be a most obvious correlation. So what if you don’t live in New York City and your sugar consumption will not be limited? What if that bottle of soda is less expensive than a bottle of milk or filtered water? What if you choose to continue to drink these type of drinks?

Think about this. On average, 16 oz serving of one of these sugary drinks has about  49 grams of sugar.   That comes to about 12 teaspoons of sugar or about 12 packets of sugar.  

 So you might say you gave up soda long ago. Soda is not the only culprit. Sweetened iced teas, sports drinks and flavored iced coffees are in the running in this group too.

The sugar content isn’t the only problem. Try looking at the pH, or acidic level of these drinks. That is something that is not listed on the label, but should be. (For the record, the pH of water is about 7, milk is about 6.8, saliva is 7.4 and battery acid is about 2) The pH of soda, diet or regular, is below 3. Sports drinks come in around 4, and sweetened teas about the same.  This combination of sugar and acid is deadly for tooth enamel.

Now in the survey I referenced in my previous writing, in which people told me quite a bit about what they did not like about The Dentist**, one thing that was very clear was that they do not like to be lectured to about brushing, flossing  or their dietary habits. So, if you want to curb your sugar consumption that would be great, and if not, here are some suggestions to help your teeth combat the effects of what you are drinking. (Not a lecture!  Just suggestions)

  1. Drink the sweetened beverages while you eating. The combination of food and beverage in your mouth will neutralize the pH, and the solid food being chewed and contacting your tooth surface will help to not have it settle and remain on the enamel. Constant sipping throughout the day, constant exposure of the tooth to sugar and low pH is very harmful. Really, the best thing to drink by itself is water.
  2. If you feel you must drink a sugary drink alone, follow it up with water or chew a piece of gum that will neutralize your mouth, like Trident Xtra Care, or any other gum with Recaldent in it. This ingredient is absorbed by the tooth and strengthens the enamel.
  3. When you brush your teeth, use a toothpaste like Sensodyne Pronamel, which you can buy over the counter, or you can get a prescription from your dentist for a higher fluoridated toothpaste. These pastes promote re-hardening of enamel that has been softened by acid erosion.

I hope this information is helpful to you. Think about what you are drinking, whether you live in NYC or not. Make smart decisions on your own as to portion size and read the labels. Less sugar means fewer cavities, healthier mouths and more smiles.

**The Dentist is a reference to a prior posting in which in response to a survey I conducted for this blog, many people reported they didn’t like The Dentist, who I referred to as that entity that causes them pain, discomfort and expense. Certainly not me! I may be a dentist, but I am not The Dentist.


  1. Great post! 49 grams of sugar sounds like a lot, but it's the visual of 12 packets of sugar that really drives the point home. I'm actually feeling sorry for the teeth that have to endure that level of abuse every day. So glad I gave up soda and all that stuff years ago!

    On the dental front, we certainly have a long way to go. We all want beautiful, white teeth but quite often don't think about the things we eat that make that goal a constant struggle. And then we wonder why it's painful when we go to the dentist!

  2. Good educational awareness makes a BIG difference in combating SWEET but dangerous to our heath habits

    No doubt we establish turning to sweet without thinking about the consequences.

    Water and gum here I come..

    Thank You..

    Andrea Schara