A sugar industry trade association, representing 30 international sugar manufacturers, knew from the 1950s that sugar is the principal cause of tooth decay-and immediately set about deflecting the blame onto other spurious factors. It soon found a willing ally in America's National Institutes of Health, supposedly the public's health guardian, after it concluded in 1969 that focusing on reduced sucrose consumption was not a practical health measure.
So, two bodies that fully knew that sugar was the main cause of tooth caries set about creating an alternative programme-and the sugar industry put its full weight behind it, channelling most of its research resources into the National Caries Program (with sugar firmly off-limits).
It also funded research with the food industry to discover enzymes that could break up dental plaque, and even bank-rolled a vaccine to prevent tooth decay.
Sugar industry representatives filled every seat but one on the National Institute of Dental Research, which set the agenda for the National Institutes of Health initiative.
"These tactics are strikingly similar to what we saw in the tobacco industry in the same era," said Stanton Glantz, one of the researchers from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), who discovered the cache of papers that had been left to the University of Illinois by the late Roger Adams, a professor of organic chemistry, who served on the Sugar Research Foundation.
Dental decay is still the leading chronic disease among children, and half of American children have caries. Sugar is also linked to heart disease, diabetes and liver disease.
(Source: PLOS Med, 2015; 12 (3): e1001798)