Tooth decay is the most common non-communicable disease in the world, affecting 60-90 per cent of school-age children and the vast majority of adults. In the USA, 92 per cent of adults aged 20-64 have experienced decay in at least one of their permanent teeth. The treatment of dental diseases costs 5-10 per cent of total health expenditure in industrialised countries.
Researchers used public health records from countries across the world to compare dental health and diet over time across large populations of adults and children. They found that the incidence of tooth decay was much higher in adults than children, and increased dramatically with any sugar consumption above 0 per cent of energy. Even in children, an increase from near-zero sugar to 5 per cent of energy doubles the prevalence of decay and continues to rise as sugar intake increases.
Only 2 per cent of people at all ages living in Nigeria had tooth decay when their diet contained almost no sugar, around 2g per day. This is in stark contrast to the USA, where 92 per cent of adults have experienced tooth decay.
In order to address the issue of tooth decay, the authors recommend a series of radical policy changes to reduce sugar consumption.
Current guidelines from the World Health Organisation set a maximum of 10 per cent of total energy intake from free sugars, with 5 per cent as a ‘target’. This equates to around 50g of free sugars per day as the maximum, with 25g as the target. The latest research suggests that 5 per cent should be the absolute maximum, with a target of less than 3 per cent.
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