The New Canada Food Guide and Dental Health

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Food Guide History

Canada’s Food Guide has been around since 1942, and in that time has undergone numerous revisions. Throughout the years, the Food Guide has attempted to take into account nutritional concerns, as well as the latest understanding of health and science. In addition, the Food Guide has also attempted to consider broader issues, such as poverty, availability of particular foods, ease of preparation, and so on. For example, in 1942, “Canada’s Official Food Rules” as they were then called, took into account wartime food rationing.

Along the way, the Food Guide has however not been very well connected to issues of dental and oral health. This disconnect has reflected a more general separation of dental and oral health from other aspects of personal health: we think of dentists and doctors as working in unrelated disciplines.

Increased Emphasis on Dental Health

In recent years however, the Food Guide has gone beyond its traditional purview, going from treating the foods we eat as nutrition, to seeing diet as a critical component in a holistic approach to overall health that spans obesity, type 2 diabetes, dental health, and many other things.

Changes in how dentistry approaches dental health complement this shift. More and more often, the effects of oral and dental health on overall health are recognized.

The most recent issue of the Canadian Food Guide makes these connections explicit, and its recommendations for overall healthy eating much more closely complement the recommendations of the Canadian Dental Association.

What’s changed?

The most important change from the dental perspective is the treatment of drinks in the Food Guide: sugared drinks are not recommended, and fruit juices are included in that category. In previous versions of the Food Guide, fruit juices were regarded as possible substitutes for portions of fruit; the new Food Guide places them in the broadly “not recommended” drinks category along with colas and sodas.

The Food Guide that most people will see is very basic, but is based on the more complete “Canada’s Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers”. These Guidelines include the following advice relating to dental health:

“Oral diseases, such as dental decay, share common nutrition-related risk factors with some of the leading chronic diseases in Canada such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dental decay affects 57% of Canadian children aged 6 to 11 years and 96% of Canadian adults over their lifetime. Each year in Canada, children aged 1 to 5 are put under anesthesia to perform dental surgery operations to treat dental decay, with a disproportionate representation of Indigenous children. In 2015, total expenditures for dental services in Canada were estimated at $13.6 billion.” Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, page 4.

The Guidelines identify dried fruit as a specific problem for dental health: “Dried fruit is sticky and often adheres to teeth. The sugars contained in foods like dried fruit can contribute to dental decay. If dried fruit is consumed, it should only be consumed with meals.” Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, page 14.

Dried Fruits

Free sugars are also now seen as a problem, and they can occur in numerous forms:

“Free sugars are monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. Free sugars do not include the naturally occurring sources of sugars found in intact or cut fruit and vegetables, and (unsweetened) milk. Beverages that contain free sugars (including 100% fruit juice) have been associated with a higher risk of dental decay in children.” Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, page 23.

Finally, the Guidelines note that “Sugary drinks and confectioneries should not be consumed regularly. Confectioneries can also be sticky and adhere to teeth, which can increase the risk of dental decay.” Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, page 25.

Other Food Guide Elements

The Food Guide also assists Canadians with recommendations on healthy eating habits, recipes, and suggestions to read food labels and be aware of food marketing. These recommendations are also useful for oral and dental health.

The new Canada Food Guide and the accompanying Dietary Guidelines are an improvement in helping Canadians manage their dental health. In future, dentistry can hope that more of the recommendations buried in the Dietary Guidelines are brought forward into the Food Guide in a way that more people will see.

References to Dental Health Cited in “Canada’s Dietary Guidelines”

Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Improving access to oral health care for vulnerable people living in Canada

Ottawa: Canadian Academy of Health Sciences; 2014 [cited 2018 Sep 14].

Health Canada. Report on the findings of the oral health component of the Canadian Health Measures Survey, 2007–2009

Ottawa: Health Canada; 2010 [cited 2018 Sep 14].

Canadian Institute for Health Information. Treatment of preventable dental cavities in preschoolers: a focus on day surgery under general anesthesia

Ottawa: Canadian Institute for Health Information; 2013 [cited 2018 Sep 14].

First Nations Information Governance Centre. National report of the First Nations Regional Health Survey Phase 3: Volume One

Ottawa: First Nations Information Governance Centre; 2018 [cited 2018 Sep 14].

Canadian Dental Association. The state of oral health in Canada

Ottawa: Canadian Dental Association; 2017 [cited 2018 Sep 14].

World Health Organization. Guidelines: Sugars intake for adults and children. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015.

Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. SACN Carbohydrates and Health Report. Norwich: Public Health England; 2015.

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