The History of Sugar and Dental Decay

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According to most sources on the history of sugar dental decay, this disease is a bacterial infection that has affected mankind from the earliest civilizations.

Its dramatic increase has undoubtedly been linked with the change in our diet from several hundred years ago when it was made up of high-fiber, unrefined foods to today’s diet of soft, refined foods that are very high in sugar.

Sugar consumption is known to be directly associated with many illnesses and most non-communicable illnesses. It is highly addictive and costs us a fortune in our personal and global health budgets every year. Sugar in its many forms is one of the most common ingredients found in processed food. How did this come to be and what are the implications for our health and wellbeing?

  •     Sugar dates back a very early period in China and India
  •     It was described in the Old Testament as “sweet cane” and was a trading commodity from foreign places.
  •     Alexander the Great introduced it to western countries from India in 325 BC. From India it was introduced to Egypt, Arabia and western parts of Asia
  •     The Industrial Revolution led to an explosion in technologies for extraction of sugar and its refinement spread throughout the world
  •     In 1700, sugar consumption in the UK was10000 tons per/year. By 1864, it had jumped to 486, 833 tons per year.1
  •     Tooth decay rates exploded worldwide soon after the Industrial Revolution made sugar cheap, plentiful and profitable.

Since the 1800’s, the crunchy, white crystalline substance has found its home sweet home on human taste buds everywhere throughout the world. Sugar consumption in the last decade has reached the highest in human history with approximately 154 million metric tons of sugar being consumed worldwide in 2009/2010 2,. What does that look like? Well in the UK national survey 2008-2012, the figures show sugar consumption being 19 teaspoons of sugar per day for teenagers, 15 teaspoons of sugar per day for children aged 4-10 and adults 18-64 years. For very small children it was 9 teaspoons per day! It is even added to baby formulae.

Sugar has become a major player in most cultures throughout the world as a pick-me-up, reward or treat. It is cheap, versatile, in plentiful supply and is highly addictive.

Sugar increases appetite for more sugar – the more you have the more you want. Why is this so?

  •     Sugar activates pleasure centers in the brain 4, offering temporary relief to feelings of sadness or emptiness.
  •     Ceasing sugar causes withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addiction4
  •     Sugar stimulates energy levels temporarily and is a very tempting “solution” to exhaustion and is often combined with caffeine in energy drinks.

The WHO in 2015 issued a warning about the risks of sugar consumption and recommended that its use be dramatically reduced5 due to sugar intake being linked with dramatically increased rates of tooth decay and many systemic diseases. These illnesses have been reported to include Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, metabolic disorder, autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue and NALFLD (non-alcoholic linked fatty liver disease) 6.

Next time you are considering giving yourself or your loved ones a sweet treat or a pick-me-up, consider the damage that you are doing not only to your teeth but to your ongoing health and well-being from this highly addictive substance.

A great film and a must see for all the family is “That Sugar Film” by Damon Gameau 7.


  1. The History of Sugar and Sugar Yielding Plants. William Reed 1866 Book digitized by Google from the library of Oxford University and uploaded to the Internet Archive by user tpb.
  2. Statista: Global Sugar Market, 2014.
  3. National Diet and Nutrition Survey: results from Years 1 to 4 (combined) of the rolling programme for 2008 and 2009 to 2011 and 2012. Public Health England and Food Standards Agency.
  4. Review Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake.
    Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG
    Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008; 32(1):20-39 [PubMed] [Ref list]
  5. Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015.
  6. Added Fructose DiNicolantonio, James J. et al.
    Mayo Clinic Proceedings , Volume 90 , Issue 3 , 372 – 381
  7. “That Sugar Film” Damon Gameau. Released 2015 © 2014 Madman Production Company Pty Ltd, Old Mates Productions Pty Ltd, That Sugar Movie Pty Ltd, Screen Australia   Genre: Documentary