Dental health scenario in India is "alarming" and excessive consumption of sugary drinks and junk food is making matters worse as high sugar eating habit is causing "addiction" and dental ailments, doctors have cautioned.
"About 80-90 per cent of the adult population in the country suffers from mild gingivitis (gum disease), 60 per cent from moderate gingivitis and over 50 per cent people overall have dental caries.
"Consumption of aerated drinks and junk food high on sugar, makes people unwittingly addicted to sugar, leading to craving for it, and eventually it wrecks their dental health. The addiction could be similar to that of tobacco, and hence a matter of worry," Chief of Centre for Dental Education and Research (CDER) at the AIIMS, Dr O P Kharbanda, told PTI.
Seeking to demystify the evidence on sugar consumption reaching levels of addiction akin to tobacco, the AIIMS is organising an international symposium here on -- "Is Sugar the New Tobacco" -- on November 11.
"Two international experts on dental health and nutrition from the UK would be attending the event, besides some experts from the AIIMS. The symposium would also deliberate on the global best practices on control of sugar intake and suitable guidelines needed in India context," he said.
CDER also houses the WHO-Collaboration Centre on Oral Health Promotion, and Kharbanda, the head of the Division of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Deformities said, "Infants as young as 1-2 years old are getting dental caries."
"Many mothers leave milk bottles in their babies' mouths. And, this leads to deposition of sugar, mixed in the milk, in and around their teeth, leading to caries," said Kharbanda, who is also the chairman of the organising committee of the symposium.
On teeth-related ailments, he added that about 25 per cent people suffer from malocclusion (imperfect positioning of the teeth when the jaws are closed), with the age group of 10-30 being the most susceptible.
Oncologists in India have identified chewable tobacco as a major health scare leading to head-and-neck cancer, and suggested increasing taxation on such products to deter its consumption.
Taxing sugary drinks can lower consumption and reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay, according to a new WHO report released recently.
"National dietary surveys indicate that drinks and foods high in free sugars can be a major source of unnecessary calories in people's diets, particularly in the case of children, adolescents and young adults," it says.
Dental experts at AIIMS said people working in the field of IT, especially the call centre employees are at high risk of getting dental ailments, as they consume a lot of high-sugar drinks and beverages. "They take it in little sips, and are unmindful of the fact that they may have become addicted to the sugar in drinks.
Indians anyway have been traditionally poor about oral hygiene, and hectic and erratic lifestyle is now adding to the woes, as people work for long hours, and food particles left unattended leads to dental plaque or biofilm as it is called now," a doctor at the CDER said. Kharbanda said though both the urban and rural classes are equally susceptible to dental ailments, "people in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, who party a lot, drink a lot, and consume junk food regularly, are getting addicted to sugar more. "And, gum diseases can manifest in many form, from gingivitis to halitosis (bad breath), and pyrea and dental caries (cavities). And, the dental health situation, right now in India is alarming. People need to control their food habit and go for check-up if they suspect something," he said. The senior doctor also said that during the symposium, national and international experts would exchange knowledge and, "we are also planning to send the resolutions reached at the end of the symposium, to the government." According to the WHO report, "a number of countries have taken fiscal measures to protect people from unhealthy products. These include Mexico, which has implemented an excise tax on non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar, and Hungary, which has imposed a tax on packaged products with high sugars, salt or caffeine levels." "Countries, such as the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have also announced intentions to implement taxes on sugary drinks," it adds. Kharbanda says that besides, erratic lifestyle, gene and nutrition are also among the factors for dental ailments. Incidentally, as per health experts junk food is also causing obesity in people, especially the urban youth. "So, for them it is a double whammy." "Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes," according to Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO's Department for the Prevention of NCDs. Asked if India as enough dentists, Kharbanda said, "We do not have shortage of dentists but there is an unequal distribution across urban and rural areas.