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Consumption of sugared soda has not increased youngsters' cavities, perhaps due to increased fluoride use

Many U.S. school districts have entered into contracts with soft drink companies that give the companies an exclusive right to stock their sodas in the schools' vending machines and concession stands. Dentists are among those in the public health community who are concerned about this policy. Dentists worry that soda's inherent acidity will lead to enamel erosion and its high sugar content to more cavities.

A new study shows that sugared soda consumption indeed does increase cavities among adults over age 25 but not in younger people. The soda-cavity connection seen in the older group may be due to the cumulative effects of long-term soda consumption. On the other hand, the absence of cavity effects among soda-consuming younger people may be related to the increased use of fluorides since the 1960s, concludes Keith E. Heller, D.D.S., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.

In the study, which was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS09554), Dr. Heller and his colleagues used data from the 1988-1994 Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to examine associations between dental cavities (decayed, missing, and filled permanent tooth surfaces, DMFS) and soda consumption. The highest consumption of sugared soda was seen in the 17- to 24-year-old age group, who drank an average of about one 12 oz can or slightly more of soda per day. Children aged 12 to 16 years drank an average of 9 to 12 oz of soda a day, those aged 6 to 11 years drank about 6.5 oz, and children aged 2 to 5 drank an average of 2.3 oz per day.

There were no differences in DMFS relative to soda consumption among those younger than 25. However, for those older than 25, the number of cavities increased with the more sugared soda they consumed each day. After controlling for sex, poverty status, and other sugared food consumption, adults aged 25-34 who consumed 6 oz or less of soda per day had a mean DMFS of 21.9, while those who consumed 30.1 oz or more of soda per day had a mean DMFS of 26.5.

For more information, see "Sugared soda consumption and dental caries in the United States," by Dr. Heller, B.A. Burt, B.D.S., M.P.H., Ph.D., and S.A. Eklund, D.D.S., M.H.S.A., Dr.P.H., in the Journal of Dental Research 80(10), pp. 1949-1953, 2001.

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