Dentist say there is a 100 percent correlation between diet and tooth decay; and that the worst thing in diet is the eating of refined sugar as found in candy and other sweets. That is why, says American dentist Brian Hollander, there is less tooth decay in the lesser developed areas of Nepal, where little refined sugar is consumed.
While trekking in Khumbu in 1981, Hollander examined the teeth of Sherpa children. He found that the incidence of tooth decay was directly related to how “developed” – that is, how exposed to tourists – villages were. There was 76 percent occurrence of caries – tooth decay – in Namche Bazaar, 56 percent in Khumjung and only 17 percent in Phortse, a village then, off the trek trail.
Where there are more tourists, more candy, soda pops and other sweet edibles are available -sometimes handed out by tourists, but more so because they are introduced to satisfy the tourists´ demands. The Sherpas also end up consuming the sweet products, says Hollander, who has been with the United States Embassy dental clinic in Kathmandu, since 1981.
Unfortunately, as remote areas become “developed”, bringing in the “candy culture,” dental care lags far behind. Indeed, abysmal is the word for the state of dental care in Nepal, where there is one dentist for 600,000 people. Trying to improve that statistic at least for one corner of Khumbu, Hollander is currently involved in a project to build a dental clinic in Namche, to be run by a Sherpa dentist. The clinic is slated to open next year.
Hollander found a lower incidence of decay among older Sherpas, presumably because their diet is virtually sugar-free, though they now drink more tea with sugar than with butter and salt. Unfortunately, if experience elsewhere is any guide, dental decay is the hand-maiden of “development”.