When it comes to preventing tooth decay, conventional dentistry typically offers just a couple “solutions” beyond standard oral hygiene: sealants and fluoride. Of course, neither of these addresses the major cause of caries (cavities). As the editor of the British Dental Journal wrote there last summer,
It is…intriguing how when one asks a patient what causes tooth decay they answer “sugar” but when asked how to prevent it they respond “by brushing your teeth.” Confusingly there is merit in this…but the more logical answer would be to reduce or eliminate sugar.
But as a new study in PLOS Medicine shows, there’s a good reason why the most logical answer didn’t get emphasized.
A review of internal industry documents shows that the sugar biz didn’t like that tactic.
The sugar industry could not deny the role of sucrose in dental caries given the scientific evidence. They therefore adopted a strategy to deflect attention to public health interventions that would reduce the harms of sugar consumption rather than restricting intake. Industry tactics included the following: funding research in collaboration with allied food industries on enzymes to break up dental plaque and a vaccine against tooth decay with questionable potential for widespread application, cultivation of relationships with the [National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR)] leadership, consulting of members on an NIDR expert panel, and submission of a report to the NIDR that became the foundation of the first request for proposals issued for the [National Caries Program (NCP)]. Seventy-eight percent of the sugar industry submission was incorporated into the NIDR’s call for research applications. Research that could have been harmful to sugar industry interests was omitted from priorities identified at the launch of the NCP.
The authors draw an explicit parallel between these tactics and those of the tobacco industry. One of those authors, in fact, is the researcher known as the “Ralph Nader of the anti-tobacco movement,” Dr. Stanton Glantz. According to a report in Dr. Bicuspid,
“These tactics are strikingly similar to what we saw in the tobacco industry in the same era,” Glantz stated in a press release. “Our findings are a wake-up call for government officials charged with protecting the public health, as well as public health advocates, to understand that the sugar industry, like the tobacco industry, seeks to protect profits over public health.”
The whole paper is worth a read. You can check it out here.
Image by Caro Wallis, via Flickr