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Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2000;11(3):366-80.

Food starches and dental caries.

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Department of Cariology, Institute of Odontology, Göteborg University, Sweden.


Sucrose and starches are the predominant dietary carbohydrates in modern societies. While the causal relationship between sucrose and dental caries development is indisputable, the relationship between food starch and dental caries continues to be debated and is the topic of this review. The current view of dental caries etiology suggests that in-depth evaluation of the starch-caries relationship requires the consideration of several critical cariogenic determinants: (1) the intensity (i.e., the amount and frequency) of exposure of tooth surfaces to both sugars and starches, (2) the bioavailability of the starches, (3) the nature of the microbial flora of dental plaque, (4) the pH-lowering capacity of dental plaque, and (5) the flow rate of saliva. Studies of caries in animals, human plaque pH response, and enamel/dentin demineralization leave no doubt that processed food starches in modern human diets possess a significant cariogenic potential. However, the available studies with humans do not provide unequivocal data on their actual cariogenicity. In this regard, we found it helpful to distinguish between two types of situations. The first, exemplified by our forebears, people in developing countries, and special subject groups in more modern countries, is characterized by starch consumption in combination with a low sugar intake, an eating frequency which is essentially limited to two or three meals per day, and a low-to-negligible caries activity. The second, exemplified by people in the more modern societies, e.g., urban populations, is characterized by starch consumption in combination with significantly increased sugar consumption, an eating frequency of three or more times per day, and a significantly elevated caries activity. It is in the first situation that food starches do not appear to be particularly caries-inducive. However, their contribution to caries development in the second situation is uncertain and requires further clarification. Although food starches do not appear to be particularly caries inducive in the first situation, the possibility cannot be excluded that they contribute significantly to caries activity in modern human populations. The commonly used term "dietary starch content" is misleading, since it represents a large array of single manufactured and processed foods of widely varying composition and potential cariogenicity. Hence, increased focus on the cariogenicity of single starchy foods is warranted. Other aspects of starchy foods consumption, deserving greater attention, include the bioavailability of starches in processed foods, their retentive properties, also in relation to sugars present (starches as co-cariogens), their consumption frequency, the effect of hyposalivation on their cariogenicity, and their impact on root caries. The starch-caries issue is a very complex problem, and much remains uncertain. More focused studies are needed. At present, it appears premature to consider or promote food starches in modern diets as safe for teeth.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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