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Sweet truth

Why we can’t live without sugar

The first time that I became aware that sugar had a downside came with my first cavity, a real beauty on my upper left first molar.

Until my baby teeth were taken by the tooth fairy my parents were content to let me eat what shut me up, but afterwards they started to get on my case about brushing every morning when I woke up and every evening before I went to bed. They used to check to see if my toothbrush was wet, but I’d learned to rinse my brush under the tap and maybe smear a little paste on my front teeth to make things smell convincing and 99 times out of 100 they fell for it.

When I used to reach for the ice cream or come home with some candy, they’d tell me that I was going to rot my teeth out if I wasn’t careful.

I guess I didn’t believe them until the dentist pulled out the needle and started drilling. The Novocain took care of most of the pain, although both the needle and drill were extremely uncomfortable.

The worst part was the smell of burning tooth, the little flying things shooting out of my mouth and landing on my bib, the vacuum sucking all of the spit and debris out of my mouth, the pressurized air shot into the cavity that reawakened my sleeping nerves, and the taste of metal as the dentist crammed the amalgam, mostly mercury with silver, copper and tin, into the hole. It was the single worst experience of my life up to that point, with the possible exception of a broken femur in senior Kindergarten.

Still, I couldn’t stay away from sugar even if I tried. I liked to drink pop and read comic books. I liked Captain Crunch, and if my parents bought health cereal I’d put a spoonful of sugar on it. I ate a lot of gum and chocolate and licorice and candy and cake – there was always some sugar around.

My parents’ philosophy was that it was better to let the kids have some sugar, or we’d just wind up sneaking it anyway. Besides, my mom knew that the brain is largely made of glucose and that kids need at least some sugar in their diets in order to grow. Her explanation for some of my sillier or slower friends was that their parents were too strict about sugar intake.

And then there were the kids who went completely berserk the moment they ingested even the smallest amount of sugar. A few of my friends weren’t allowed any because they had a tendency to fight, yell, and jump off of playground equipment. I was always happy to give them a little of my own junk food just to get them going – school was far more interesting that way.

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