Lollipops from the Dentist

March 26, 2010 at 8:30 am 2 comments

I went to the dentist yesterday. School is out for break, so there were kids there too. Kids with lollipops. Lollipops which they appeared to have been given by none other than the dentist.

What? For at least one hundred years, dentists have been hammering the point: candy causes cavities!

So here’s a dentist giving out a lollipop as a reward for enduring the visit. And I’m thinking, wow, this dentist is really out there. But then I took a closer look.

The lollipop was “Dr. John’s Xylitol Lollipop.” Xylitol, in case you haven’t heard, is a sugar alcohol that diminishes the effects of the bad bacteria in your mouth that lead to cavities. So in theory, the xylitol lollipop would not promote tooth decay. Dentist friendly candy! And Dr. John’s website, although it doesn’t actually say it, is obviously inviting that idea: the logo for Dr. John includes a dental mirror.

So the lollipop that kiddies get at the store is BAD. And the lollipop that comes from the dentist is GOOD. But for a kid, isn’t a lollipop a lollipop? Mixed messages, people.

And what does it mean to say only doctors can give us candy? I’m looking around and seeing gummy vitamins, gummy fiber supplements, gummy Omega-3s, this xylitol candy (which, by the way, for full cavity fighting effect, needs to be consumed  several times a day). You or your child could spend the whole day eating gummy bears and sucking lollipops, and say “but it’s not candy!” You know what? It is.

Of course, the truth is that it’s not the candy that causes cavities. It’s bacteria that feed on carbohydrates (including, but not only, sugars) that stick to your teeth. Those could come from candy, of course, but they could come from pasta, or bread, or potato chips. And just because you eat candy doesn’t mean the sugars will stick to your teeth, or that the levels of bacteria in your mouth will lead to decay.

Notice how no one ever says “bread causes cavities”? Because in our cultural lexicon of foods, bread is good, the staff of life. How could it possibly be harmful? On the other hand, “don’t eat candy” is a simple message, one that fits with our cultural suspicion of candy as pleasure for the sake of pleasure. But the big picture is a lot more complicated.

And one other thing: xylitol, like mannitol and other sugar alcohols, can have side effects. The folks at http://www.yourdentistryguide.com/xylitol/ explain:

Taking more than the recommended six to eight grams for oral care may cause stomach discomfort; taking more than 40 grams a day as a sweetener might cause some people to initially experience diarrhea, but this typically subsides with continued use.

Well, if its only a little diarrhea, I guess it’s ok.

And now it’s only fair to give you a warning: Candy Professor Soapbox ahead…

Here’s what I think. Hiding candy under a medical disguise just confuses the issue. Food should be food, medicine should be medicine, candy should be candy. When we make our medicine into candy, and deny ourselves candy for its own pleasures, what have we become?

Dr. John’s Xylitol Lollipops: this is where I would put the link, but I don’t think I will. You can find them yourself if you’re looking.

Entry filed under: Children and Candy, Current Candy News, Health, Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mister worms  |  April 11, 2010 at 11:34 am

    “Food should be food, medicine should be medicine…”

    I get what you’re saying about mixed messages, but many times food *is* medicine if nutrition is approached in a holistic way. Food is more than just calories that fuel our bodies. Good, nutrient dense food supports good health. Think of the myriad of vitamins, minerals, probiotics and yet unidentified substances that any given whole food contains. What about herbs with specific medicinal purposes?

    Although granular xylitol and xylitol products are processed, xylitol is one of the few substances that current evidence shows can be effective against the bacteria that lead to tooth decay. It also helps create an oral environment that favorable to tooth remineralization. Side effects: it’s a stretch to go from 8 grams to the 40+ that upset digestion. Xylitol works best topically, in small, frequent doses and up to 10g a day is all that’s needed for its anticariogenic effect.

    Reply
    • 2. Candy Professor  |  April 11, 2010 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Xylitol certainly seems to have benefits. I am so fascinated by the long history of interplay between “food” and “medicine.” One thing that strikes is that a traditional idea of food keeping you alive and medicine treating disease or injury makes a strong distinction between a normal healthy state (requiring food) and a state of illness (requiring medicine). When we see food as medicine, we are also losing the distinction between “health” and “illness”. We’re all effectively diseased.

      Reply

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