Dentist’s View of Sugar-Sweetened Drinks

Dr. Alaleh Zadmehr sees close up how sugar-sweetened beverages destroy teeth.  As a dentist at Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center’s Silva Clinic, she treats children between the ages of 2 months and18 years.

Finding her calling in community health, she hopes to use her expertise to benefit vulnerable communities – and their teeth.  “Since a very young age, I’ve liked working with kids, and always liked working with my hands, painting and drawing. I became very interested in dentistry. It’s a mix of art and science….I realized that, unfortunately, there are not that many dentists or pediatric dentists that take Medi-Cal insurance and work with underserved communities. I’ve found it very rewarding.”

At Silva Clinic, she sees many patients with early childhood caries, or tooth decay,  caused by sweets, especially sugar-sweetened beverages. Parent and patient education takes priority. “We have a booklet that has pictures, and when they see it visually it helps them a lot – you see what happens if  kids consume these beverages regularly.  We try to explain simply how much sugar these beverages have. Children as young as one to six years old really only need 4-6 grams of sugar…this can of soda has 38-39 grams of sugar.”

For those patients who come in at a very young age, education and preventive care go a long way. “We recommend they bring their kids at an early age, as soon as the first tooth has erupted so that we can go through our booklet, talk to them and do diet counseling with them. That helps a lot. But, when they come at later ages, unfortunately, the damage is already done.”

Beyond oral care, Zadmehr and her team educate parents on the overall health consequences of sugar-sweetened beverages. “We unfortunately have some kids with diabetes, and some of our patients are treated for obesity, so we try to talk to them about effects beyond the dental caries, health problems that can later cause cardiovascular problems, respiratory problems and obesity. A lot of these soft drinks have caffeine that.. can cause anxiety and reduced sleep. And, especially in girls, when they consume a lot of these beverages, they drink less milk, and drinking less milk can cause a decrease in bone density and increase in chance of bone fracture and osteoporosis later on in life.”

While Zadmehr never expected that diet counseling would be part of her daily work, she embraces it. ” When I do this with my patients and when I see the results, when I don’t see the poor oral hygiene and I don’t see cavities, I understand that they listened and are educating themselves.”

Learn more about Alameda Health Consortium’s Oral Health priority area.