Recommended Sugar Levels May Need to Change

Association between sugar and dental caries prompts call to rethink sugar intake

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Cutting back on the sweets may be a concern for those trying to slim down, but it should also be a concern for those who want to protect their teeth, say the authors of a new study.

The study explored the relationship between sugar intake and dental cavities.

The authors said that, to protect teeth, sugar should account for only a very small portion of total energy intake.

"Make brushing and flossing a habit to keep teeth healthy."

According to the authors of this study, which was led by Aubrey Sheiham, emeritus professor of dental public health at University College London in the UK, current recommendations from the World Health Organization are that no more than 10 percent of daily energy intake, or around 50 grams should be from sugar. These suggestions are based on a diet of 2,000 calories per day.

The study authors wanted to see whether this level of sugar intake prevented dental caries — also known as tooth decay or cavities.

To do so, Dr. Sheiham and team looked at data from a number of international public health sources to study nations that saw a change in sugar intake levels for varying reasons, such as wartime restrictions and big dietary changes.

They found that, in low-income countries where refined sugar intake was once low, dental caries was uncommon. For example, in the islands of Tristan da Cunha in 1938, sugar only accounted for an average of 0.4 percent of energy intake, and caries affected only 2 percent of adolescents. By the 1960s, sugar consumption had increased to 30 percent of energy intake, and caries affected 17.5 percent of children.

When looking at data from thousands of Japanese children during the 1930s and 1950s, Dr. Sheiham and team found that an increase from hardly any sugar to 2.7 percent of energy intake doubled the incidence of caries in molars during the eight years after teeth developed.

Based on these findings and others, Dr. Sheiham and team suggested that public health goals should be for a maximum of 5 percent of daily energy intake to come from sugars, with the ideal goal being at 3 percent. These levels would help reduce the public health and financial burdens of dental caries, the study authors said.

The study was published online Sept. 16 in BMC Public Health.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 17, 2014
Last Updated:
September 18, 2014