Let’s play a little game of Follow the Logic:

  • Sugar in food and drink is a drag on dental health.
  • There’s no evidence that the sugar in medicine causes cavities.
  • People eat a lot of sugar.
  • There’s no point in making sugar-free medicine.

That is indeed the “argument” – such as it is – of a paper recently published in the British Dental Journal. For further “support,” its author – an oncologist, who you’d think would be aware of the cancer/sugar connection – invokes the benefits of sugar, primarily that it makes things taste better, and if “medicine” tastes better, people will take it as directed. (They might even take more of it than directed, especially children, but that issue seems to go unaddressed. What matters is, in the parlance of modern medicine, compliance.)

Long-time readers of this blog may remember previous posts on various “cavity-fighting sweets,” which have been justified along similar lines: Kids are going to go for the sugar no matter what.

You have to help people by meeting them where they are, right?

And yet, where so many of us wind up is in a vicious cycle of unhealthy habits that fuel illness and dysfunction. We eat poorly. We take drugs to suppress symptoms yet don’t get to the root causes of illness. We’re sedentary, distracted, stressed. We reach for the quick fix, even if it makes us feel worse in the long run.

Some have said that addicts don’t so much crave their substance of choice as they crave the relief it will bring from withdrawal. Feeding their addiction, they perpetuate it.

Similarly, interventions like “decay-fighting sweets” may reinforce the kinds of behaviors that raise the risk of decay. Yes, it’s harder to change behaviors, but it’s a surer, longer-lasting means to good oral (and physical) health.

Here’s the oncologist’s punchline:

Hence sugar-free medicines promoted as a public health policy could have actually caused more harm than any meaningful net benefit.

Like fluoride-free water may contribute to tooth decay, as an item in The Washington Post warned about a year ago?

There is an urgent need for a healthy debate and a fresh look at the policy of promoting sugar-free medicines.

Urgent! he says.

Meanwhile, via The Onion:

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