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 Junk Food and the Oral Disease Connection 
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Integrative Dentistry by . View all columns in series
Did you know researchers are finding that craving of fat and sugar is as strong as any addictive drug and is due to the frequency of exposure to them? Of course, sugar and fat are the stuff that most fast-food franchises and junk foods are made of. Not only are these types of chains growing in all major cities and small towns, but now they are alarmingly taking over the old style cafeteria of our schools.

Children are no longer eating lunches made of home made foods prepared by the cafeteria cooks, but have "choices" of chips, soft drinks, hamburgers, and other fast-food junk foods. Of course, this has a major impact on their oral health as well as other future health issues.

No wonder according to the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health issued in 2000, the following statistics were reported:

  1. Dental caries (cavities) is the single most common chronic childhood disease – 5 times more common than asthma and 7 times more common than hay fever
  2. More than 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental related illness.
  3. Most adults (over 75%) show signs of periodontal or gingival disease.
  4. Employed adults lose more than 164 million hours of work each year due to dental disease or dental visits.

The teeth and gums are a living example of the old saying "you are what you eat." Foods consumed from fast-food menus, such as high-fat content meats, white bread, soft drinks and sweets are all ideal matrixes for the breeding of bacteria, which cause cavities. The meats and simple carbohydrates ferment and leave their by-products in the pits and grooves of the teeth. These areas are difficult to clean and help proliferate bacteria. The toxins produced by the bacteria easily destroy the enamel and cause gum disease.

The eating patterns and behaviors of our children are being shaped by the fast- food chains. According to a study from Rockefeller University by neurobiologist Sarah Leibowitz, frequent exposure to fatty foods may configure the brain to crave still more fat. She also found that a brain peptide that simulates eating behavior and decreases energy expenditure increases when high-fat diets are eaten. The study also found, that when rats were fed a high-sugar diet, the rats experienced withdrawal symptoms suggesting anxiety disorders when the sugar was removed from their diet.

Added to the recent trends in schools of having eliminated physical education programs, we don’t have a healthy picture of our youth. Obesity among children is more common today than 10 – 20 years ago. Long-term consequences of poor eating habits are starting to surface among adults.

The above study is very important since it does conclude the possibility of an increase for craving certain types of foods, with constant exposure to them. Let’s face it, the fast food chains are a multi-billion dollar industry and they have gotten that way by advertising, marketing and being readily available to consumers. Education on these types of information about the future consequences of what we eat today is extremely important for our well being as a nation. It is just as simple for a parent (weather they’re working or not) to plan their children’s meal for school to be healthy and appetizing to help them fight the temptation of the fast food options than to give them the money to buy what they want.

The other option is for parents to at least make an effort to have their schools either not serve the fast food franchise types of menus or at least demand that the local school offer the healthier choices as well. The responsibility starts at home with the parents. The next step is for health care professionals to stress the importance of healthy eating Vs the future consequences of junk foods.

A well-balanced diet is the key for healthy teeth and gums, just as much as proper oral hygiene. This is true not only for the organ we call the oral cavity, but also for rest of the body. Maybe we should teach "we are what we are tomorrow, by what we eat today."

      
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 About The Author
Flora Stay, DDS holds a doctor of dental surgery degree from University of California, San Francisco. She is the founder of ...moreFlora Stay DDS
 
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