JM | Nov 29, 2022

Sugary foods a catalyst behind oral diseases in Jamaica

Mikala Johnson

Mikala Johnson / Our Today

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Dr Nigel Byles is a practising dentist operating in Jamaica. (Photo: Contributed)

A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report has indicated that almost half of the world’s population (45% or 3.5 billion people) suffer from oral diseases.

According to the report, global cases of oral diseases have increased by one billion over the last 30 years — a clear indication that many people do not have access to prevention and treatment of oral diseases.

In light of the report, Our Today sought the expert opinion of Dr Nigel Byles, who operates at Drs’ Knight and Byles Practice at the Nuttall Medical Centre, to assist in identifying what are some of the reasons behind this alarming global increase in oral diseases.


“I believe the global rise is most likely due to the increased access to foods and drinks with high sugar content and decrease access to healthier options,” he said.

Byles also said that “the decrease in emphasis on oral health education and public health strategies such as the fluoridation of salt, which gave Jamaica great success in the past”.

He said that, while free flow salt is still available, the market has become saturated with other options, thus decreasing its reach.

When asked if Jamaica is experiencing an increase in oral diseases, based on what he is seeing, he responded: “Yes, unfortunately cases do seem to be increasing.”

An oral cavity. (Photo:

The WHO report stated that the most common oral diseases are dental caries (tooth decay), severe gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancers, and noted that most oral health conditions are largely preventable and can be treated in their early stages.

According to Byles, some of the most common oral diseases among the Jamaican population include cavities (dental caries) and periodontal (gum) disease. He noted that periodontal disease comes in a large spectrum, from mild gingivitis to severe.

“Those two and trauma are the vast majority of what we see,” he added.


The WHO report revealed that three out of every four affected people are living in low- and middle-income countries.

According to the report, affordability can be a driving contributing factor that leads to oral health diseases, but Byles believes there is more to it.

“I think affordability is not a key issue in the increase. I think that affordability is an issue once the problems arise (cavities, periodontal disease, etc), but the genesis of the problems is more to do with lack of oral hygiene habits and increased sugar content in all our diets, especially sugarydrinks,” the dentist noted.


He added: “I have patients who don’t come twice a year as the case should be, but still, they have excellent oral health. When I see them, these issues are not present because they stick to good hygiene habits.”

With this, Byles said there are some lifestyle changes that individuals can put into practice to combat or reduce their chances of developing oral diseases.

“These include increased water intake, less sugary drinks, regular brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing once a day, at least, eating healthy foods and using salt fortified with fluoride.”


Byles shared that cavities are a product of three things:

Bacteria – that’s the one we can’t change; bacteria exist in the oral cavity (we all have them).

Sugar – eating sugary foods introduces sugar into your mouth, which sparks a feeding frenzy among the “bad” bacteria.

As the bad bacteria feed on the sugars in your mouth, they release acids. These acids then attack your teeth’s enamel by leeching minerals, which weakens the enamel and sets the stage for tooth decay.

To prevent this, persons should consume less sugary foods.


Time – the time the food stays in proximity with the teeth is very essential. Over time, packed food will harden into tartar that is stuck to your teeth. Tartar under the gum line is one of the most significant predictors for gum disease.

“So, doing something as simple as rinsing your mouth with water after eating can help change that equation in your favour,” Byles said.

The report’s clear conclusion is that the status of global oral health is alarming and requires urgent action.


With this, Byles is urging Jamaicans to develop and maintain good oral hygiene practices, such as using mouth wash and visiting the dentist twice a year.

“Remember, prevention is always better than cure. Having good oral hygiene habits and trying to keep sugar content low will help immeasurably,” he said.

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