Proposing a soda tax can be a political hot potato. Several bills were floated in New York, but none ever got off the ground. Legislation in the California State Assembly was pulled before it came to a vote. Some forty times previously, state and city governments rejected a proposed tax on sugary beverages. But just recently, Philadelphia became the first large city to pass a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks — and that may put the City of Brotherly Love right in front of a growing trend.
Why get excited about a new tax? Because if economists are right, and the tax cuts down on consumption of sugary beverages, its benefit in terms of improved public health could be significant.
Numerous studies have linked the consumption of excess sugar to various health problems: diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, to name just a few. Research by the Harvard School of Public Health shows that in recent decades, more and more of our total calorie intake comes from sugary beverages. In fact, sugary drinks (including soda and so-called “sports” and “energy” drinks) are now thought to be the top source of calories in teenagers’ diets.
Dentists, of course, are concerned about an additional problem: the potential for soda to cause cavities. Tooth decay can result in pain, time away from school and work, and expense — and it’s still the number one chronic disease in children, both in North America and around the world. The link between sugary drinks and tooth decay is well understood: As sugar is processed by harmful bacteria in your mouth, the bacteria release acid that can erode the teeth. Reduce or eliminate the sugar, and you reduce decay.
Tooth decay is a major problem — but fortunately, it’s almost 100% preventable. What can you do to keep it from affecting you, or someone you care about? Reducing your consumption of sugary foods and beverages is a good start. If you do have sweets, limit them to mealtimes and avoid snacking in between. This gives your saliva a chance to neutralize the acid, and lets your teeth have a break.
Getting into the habit of brushing your teeth twice daily and flossing once a day is also a great way to keep up your oral hygiene. Effective brushing and flossing helps break up and remove the plaque that develops on tooth surfaces, which is where bacteria can thrive. But even excellent at-home care can’t fully eliminate deposits of sticky plaque or hardened tartar. That’s why it is so important to go to the dental office for regular checkups and professional cleanings.
Nobody really likes taxes. But if a tax on soda results in fewer cavities and brighter smiles, it might be one we could learn to live with. If you would like more information about how sugar affects your oral health, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Bitter Truth About Sugar” and “Nutrition and Oral Health.”