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As quick meals in the form of "nutrition" bars and carbonated beverages help keep teens alert and on schedule between school, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs, today's fast-paced lifestyle threatens to leave a generation with permanent damage to oral and overall health.
"Premature loss of tooth enamel and weakening of overall tooth structure are two devastating oral effects of teens' poor diet that cannot be reversed later in life," explains Jane Soxman, DDS, author of a study that appears in the January/February 2003 issue of General Dentistry, the clinical, peer-reviewed journal of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).
Adolescence is the time of peak bone growth, a time when more nutrient-packed calories are essential to fuel growing bodies and strengthen teeth and bones, however adolescence is the same time when soda and sugary, high-carbohydrate foods are rapidly displacing healthy foods such as milk, fruits and vegetables.
"The easy access of sugary beverages and foods from home to school and everywhere in between has compromised the health of teens' teeth and helped fuel the national obesity epidemic," says AGD spokesperson Julie Barna, DMD, MAGD.
Dr. Soxman's report shows drinking carbonated beverages seems to be one of the most significant causes of increased cavities and obesity for today's teens. Fifteen percent of American adolescents ages 6 to 19 are overweight. This number is expected to increase. Why? Ten percent of overweight preschool-age children ages 2 to 5 are becoming addicted to caffeine and sugar, which makes it harder for them to stop unhealthy habits such as drinking soda throughout the day.
The phosphoric, citric, tartaric and carbonic acids in soda are linked to the breakdown of tooth enamel around dental sealants and restorations, further compromising teens' teeth and leading to more extensive dental treatment to prevent total tooth loss.
The phosphoric acid in most regular and diet cola drinks limits calcium absorption and has a direct influence on bone density. By age 16, girls have accumulated 90 to 97 percent of their bone mass, making adequate calcium intake vital. However, national statistics show only 19 percent of girls ages 9 to 19 are getting the recommended 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day.
Research also confirms a direct link between soft drink consumption and bone fractures in teenage girls.
"These girls are at an extreme risk for developing osteoporosis, already exhibiting symptoms of this disease in their teen years," says Dr. Soxman. "Early education on the importance of calcium consumption is key to reversing this trend."
Updated: March 2007
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