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Wednesday, 20 January, 1999, 17:37 GMT
Dental threat of snacking
Eating lots of sugary snacks is worse than eating one sugar-filled meal
Eating little and often may be more damaging to your teeth than having big meals, according to a major report on oral health.

The British Nutrition Foundation's Oral Health: Diet and other factors report says the frequency with which people eat sugary foods is "the most important dietary factor in the development of caries".

It identified fluoridation of water supplies as the single biggest factor that could cut tooth decay. Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste was second.

Only 10% of water supplies in the UK are fluoridated to the optimum level of one part per million. The BNF estimates that such concentrations can reduce tooth decay in children by up to 50%.

The report was launched at a conference in London on Wednesday.

'Cheese can save teeth'

The report shows that as well as the standard preventive measures, diet and eating habits play an important role in oral health. It found that it is not what you eat, but when you eat it which leads to fillings.

Sugar
Sugar consumption should be restricted to meal times
It says that people who snack on sugary foods and drinks are more at risk of developing tooth decay than people who consume the same amount of sugars in one main meal.

Ursula Arens, of the BNF, said: "What this means is that it is less what you eat, and more when you eat that affects caries (tooth decay) risk."

Sarah Schenker is a nutrition scientist with the BNF. She said the worst thing people could do would be to constantly suck on sweets between meals.

"It's far better to have your bulk of sugar in one go and then follow it with a piece of cheese, because that's the best way to bring the mouth pH level up to an alkaline level."

Acid attack

After eating food containing sugars, acid is created in the mouth. This acid attacks the enamel on the teeth and leaves them vulnerable to decay.

"One of the worst things you can do is brush your teeth after eating sugar," Ms Schenker said.

"If you brush your teeth within the half hour after eating sugar it doesn't give your mouth time to get back to an alkaline level, so you're prolonging the time that your teeth are exposed to an acidic environment."

And it states that eating acidic foods, such as some fruits and juices, is also a tooth risk and can wear off the enamel.

The report was produced by a task force of dental and nutrition experts who have reviewed the subject in detail.

The British Dental Association said the research supported dentists' standard advice.

A spokesman said: "Dentists believe that the most important advice for people regarding oral health and diet is to limit the frequency of sugar consumption.

"However, after meals, saliva helps to neutralise the acids at the tooth surface which occur when sugar-containing foods are consumed.

"We know that chewing foods such as fruit, vegetables, cheese and sugar-free gum after meals stimulates saliva flow and helps with this process."

See also:

18 Sep 98 | Health
Asthma drugs may harm teeth
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