Mar 16, 2023 - News

Utah's sugary drinks and declining dental care could mean trouble for teeth

Illustration of a large tooth on a dental examination chair.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Utah had the nation's 8th-highest rate of young kids who frequently consume sugary drinks, according to a recent CDC study.

  • The finding comes as dentists sound the alarm that dental health has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Driving the news: Two-thirds of Utah families said their kids from ages 1–5 were drinking sugar-sweetened beverages at least weekly, per a survey released last month.

Context: Sodas are adored in Utah, a state where most residents belong to a church that forbids drinking alcohol, tea and coffee.

State of play: Dentist visits cratered during COVID-19 lockdowns, so patients haven't gotten as many cleanings and sealants to prevent cavities — and lots of cavities are going untreated, said Mark Cannon, a professor at Northwestern University's dental school and president of the nonprofit American Academy for Oral and Systemic Health.

Why it matters: While painful in their own right, gum and teeth problems may be linked to cardiovascular diseases and other health problems.

What they're saying: "When working with kids who have a higher level of sugar — like a lot of sugary drinks — that will overwhelm fluoride," Cannon said.

Zoom out: The same CDC study showed most Utah kids are eating vegetables less than once a day — and poor nutrition can also contribute to gum and teeth problems, Cannon noted.

Be smart: Parents should get their kids back to dentists, try to get in the habit of cooking and limit soda, Cannon said.

  • Xylitol rinse and chewing gum also can help stave off tooth decay and reduce oral bacteria, Cannon noted.

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