Dental Tribune International

Research links processed starch to dental caries

NEWCASTLE, UK: Given the abundance of dietary recommendations that can be accessed these days, understanding what we should and should not eat can be a difficult task. It may come as a welcome surprise, then, that a recent review commissioned by the World Health Organization has shown that a diet rich in wholegrain carbohydrates is less likely to negatively impact oral health than a diet high in processed carbohydrates.

The findings come from a review of 33 papers on starch and oral health, conducted by researchers at Newcastle University. The analysed papers were studies of foods containing rapidly digestible starches, such as white bread, cake and pretzels, or slowly digestible starches, such as legumes and whole grains, and these foods’ relationships with dental caries, oral cancer and periodontal disease.

The researchers found that there was no evidence to suggest an association between the amount of starch eaten and dental caries. However, rapidly digestible starches were linked to an increased risk of dental cavities, since amylase, a component of saliva, is able to break these starches down into sugars.

Further findings from the review suggested that slowly digestible starches might offer protection against periodontal disease and lead to a lower risk of oral cancer. However, these findings are based on fewer available studies and weaker data.

“Despite an ill-advised fashion for eliminating carbohydrates from the diet, a carbohydrate-rich diet is shown to be fine for oral health so long as it is low in sugars and is based on wholegrain varieties of carbs such as pasta, couscous and wholemeal bread,” said lead researcher Dr Paula Moynihan, Professor of Nutrition and Oral Health at Newcastle University’s School of Dental Sciences.

“The key for shoppers is to look for wholemeal and wholegrain on the labels,” Moynihan added.

The WHO is in the process of updating its guidance regarding carbohydrate consumption. Currently, it recommends keeping free sugar intake—sugars added in the manufacturing process or present in fruit juice, honey and syrups—to less than 10 per cent of one’s daily caloric intake.

The paper, titled “Effects of starch on oral health: Systematic review to inform WHO guideline”, was published online in the Journal of Dental Research on 3 August 2018 ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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