Sugar is being called “the new
tobacco.” Its many forms have been linked to the increasing rates of diabetes,
heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and other chronic diseases in
Army dentists have been fighting
on the front lines against sugar for decades. Despite their best efforts, tooth
decay continues to be the main cause of dental disease and non-battle injuries
among deployed Soldiers. From 2000 to 2008, the oral health of DOD recruits worsened.
The 2008 Tri-Service Oral Health Survey revealed that Army recruits have higher
numbers of untreated cavities compared to other DOD recruits. A study at the
largest Army installation showed that about one-third of Soldiers develop new
treatment needs every year.
Army Soldiers have better access
to education about oral hygiene and proper nutrition, fluoridated water,
fluoride toothpaste, and dental care than many Americans. But Army dentists
report that these defenses can’t compensate for Soldiers’ frequent snacking habits
and the popularity of soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened
coffee, sweet tea and coffee boutique drinks such as frappacinos. Army dentists
are all too familiar with the rampant decay that results when a Soldier sips on
sugary drinks throughout the day. Drinks that contain high amounts of sugar,
caffeine and citrus flavors often cause extensive tooth decay, likely due to the
combination of high sugar content and organic acids.
Young Soldiers often don’t pay
attention to the sugar, calories, or caffeine in their drinks. One large iced
coffee can have 11 teaspoons of sugar. But even if they check the label, looks can
be deceiving. The amount of sugar, caffeine, and carbohydrates per serving
listed on a single can of an energy drink may not seem that bad, but they can
actually contain two servings so that amount must be doubled. The most popular energy
drink purchased at Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores, 16-ounce
Monster, has 13 teaspoons, and the most popular soda, 20-ounce Mountain Dew,
has more than 18 teaspoons of sugar.
Caffeine and sugar have both
been shown to be addictive, and Soldiers are just as vulnerable to the caffeine
rush and sugar high as other Americans. During deployment or intense training
courses, Soldiers can come to depend on these drinks to stay awake and alert, or
to relieve boredom. They return home with souvenirs that they would rather not
have – a mouthful of new cavities.
Col. Johnette Shelley,
director, Health and Wellness, DENCOM, recommends Soldiers practice the
following countermeasures to protect themselves from decay:
• Replace sugared beverages with
sugar-free alternatives, plain water, mineral water, or unsweetened coffee or
• Fruit juice contains sugar and
acid also, so limit juice to 6 ounces of calcium-fortified juice per day. Eat
fresh fruit to meet daily fruit intake goals.
• Drink sugary or acidic drinks
quickly, within 15 minutes, rather than sipping them for an extended period of
• Limit meal, beverage and snack
intake to no more than five times per day. Combine sugary beverages or juice
with a meal, ideally near the beginning of the meal.
• Try to drink sugary,
erosive drinks cold to minimize the acidic effects.
• Use a straw that reaches to
the back of the tongue to keep the drink away from your teeth.
• Drink plain water
immediately following the sugared drink to ‘wash’ it off of the teeth and
neutralize the acid from the drink. Chew sugar-free or xylitol gum to help
neutralize acid also.
• Wait at least 20 minutes after
drinking sugary beverages or 100-percent fruit juice before brushing teeth with
• Do not rinse mouth after brushing.
Just spit several times to remove the excess toothpaste. Also, don’t eat or
drink anything for at least 20 to 30 minutes after brushing so the fluoride
will stay on your teeth as long as possible and protect them better.
Remember, sip all day… Get