The cheapest way to avoid the dentist

An ancient technology that will cost you less than a penny can save you thousands of dollars in dental work: the straw.

Americans down about 576 sugary soft drinks every year - that works out to about one and a half cans per day per person. And it turns out that it's not just the sugar in these beverages that causes the risk to your teeth-how you drink a soda can have a huge impact, too. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGC) recently announced that the use of "a properly positioned" straw (you read that right-more on this later) can help to significantly minimize the risk of cavities and other oral health problems.

The study revealed that people who drink soda directly from the can or bottle had serious decay issues toward the back of their mouths because the soda pooled around the molars. Overall, straw users had fewer cavities.

The logic is very simple: A straw ushers the sweet drinks past your lips and teeth, delivering your drink of choice closer to your throat. So your teeth don't get a sugary bath with every sip.

Here's the catch: You must use the straw properly to get the benefit! Yes, according to this research, there's actually a WRONG way to use a straw. (Whatever you do, DON'T let this email get into the hands of a government employee, or soon we'll be seeing straws wrapped in a Sunday paper-sized warning label, complete with manuals!) The AGC found that people who sipped from straws positioned at the front of their mouths (right behind the lips), had decay on their front teeth.

"Your best option is to sop soft drinks and other beverages through a straw positioned towards the back of the mouth," said Mohamed A. Bassiouny, DMD and the leader of the study. "Doing so will limit the amount of time the beverage is in contact with the teeth." Even then, drinking with a straw positioned in the back of the mouth still allowed the rear teeth to be drenched with sugary and acidic liquids.

Is it me, or is there another simple logic here: The best way to avoid the negative effects of drinking sodas IS TO NOT DRINK SODA.

Not to make light of this finding but the report was so laden with caveats, that there's only one possibly conclusion: Even the dentists who issued the study know that the straw technique is the equivalent of putting a butterfly Band-aid on a sucking chest wound. And that overall, these dentists viewed the soft drink industry with the same disdain that the mainstream medical community has for big tobacco.

In the end, after an incredible dull and wildly obvious litany of anti-soft drink tips, Dr. Bassiouny ended with this brilliant bit of advice: "Reduce your soda consumption." Those four words could have summed up the point of the whole report, thereby saving untold numbers of straws, weeks of meaningless statistical compilation, acres of trees upon which the report was printed, and the valuable time of all involved.

Ultimately, though, cavities should be the least of your concerns. Turns out sugary beverages not only increase your risk of cavities, they also increase your risk of Alzheimer's.


A new study reported in General Dentistry suggests that sugary beverages could increase the risk of Alzheimer's. The researchers were trying to determine if high sugar consumption in an otherwise normal diet could impact Alzheimer's progression.

They found that mice that consumed a diet that was 10 percent sugar water gained more weight, had higher cholesterol, and developed insulin resistance. In other words, they became classic diabetics. Sound like a familiar pattern? What's more, the mice showed a decline in learning and memory retention, and their brains contained OVER TWICE as many amyloid plaque deposits - a hallmark of Alzheimer's.

Now you're thinking, "Hold on, Dr. D. - I don't have a diet that contains 10 percent sugar water. This test is bunk!" Actually, the human equivalent of the mouse diet would be about five cans of soda a day - a lot, to be sure. But even if you don't drink that much soda, there are plenty of other ways we funnel sugar down our throats, and it all ads up.

I saw another report the other day that pointed out that Americans are now drinking about 20 percent of their total caloric intake. And sugary beverages - of which there are so many these days - are everywhere. And don't forget: Those sports drinks may be refreshing, but they're like drinking a Milky Way bar. And I'm sure you don't think about it much, but fruit juices, like orange and grapefruit, can be tossed into this category as well.

Whether it's your teeth or your brain you should think twice the next time you reach for a drink.