Sugar and children's oral health

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Tooth decay is now the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children. Recent data have revealed a 10 per cent increase in children requiring hospital based tooth extractions in the last four years.

We have been leading on calls for radical action to lower the nation's sugar intake, with measures ranging from lowering the recommended daily allowance, through to action on marketing, labelling and sales taxes.

Our video 'Do you know how much sugar is in drink?' aims to highlight the amounts of sugar contained in popular soft drinks and to give the message that dentists want to protect children's oral health:


What are we calling for?

1. A sugar tax on soft drinks

Nearly a quarter of the added sugar in our diet comes from soft drinks and children aged 11-18 get 40% of their added sugars from soft drinks

We have been campaigning for a sugar tax on soft drinks for many years, as we believe there are clear oral health benefits of such a tax. 

We welcomed the Government's announcement of a levy on sugary soft drinks from 2018, but are calling for measures to go further to cover a wider range of sugary food and drinks, and for proceeds of the sugar levy to go towards funding children's oral health initiatives.

Following publication of the House of Commons Health Committee's inquiry Childhood Obesity - Brave and Bold Action (November 2015), we called on the Government to show real leadership on sugar and support radical action on the marketing, labelling, taxation and reformulation of products containing added sugar

2. Stricter controls on marketing and advertising and clearer labelling

Tooth decay is the number one reason why children aged 5-9 are admitted to hospital in England.

Young children are currently subject to advertising and promotion of unhealthy products, particularly on children's TV. We support Action on Sugar's call for a ban on promotions and marketing of unhealthy products to help combat obesity and tooth decay in the UK.

We support the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine's calls for tighter regulation around the, price, availability and marketing of sports drinks to children, especially surrounding the school area, to safeguard general and dental health.

Many young people (and their parents) are unaware of the high level of sugar in fizzy drinks. We are backing calls by the Local Government Association to include clear labelling on fizzy drinks as to the amount of sugar they contain.

During December 2015, we asked dentists to contact their MP to request support for an Early Day Motion calling for clear labelling of the content of added sugar in food and drinks expressed visually as spoonfuls of sugar.

3. Investment in prevention

The NHS spent £30 million on hospital-based tooth extractions for children aged 18 years and under in 2012/13

We are calling on governments across the UK to show leadership on children's oral health. We believe an emphasis on prevention should be central in developing any new dental contract, possible variants of which are currently being trialed.

We believe any new dental contract should be based on capitation only, which would give a real focus on prevention and allow dentists to ensure children's teeth stay healthy.

We have celebrated the success of the ChildSmile programme in Scotland and called on administrations across the UK to take note and roll it out across the UK: England's children are being let down on prevention.

4. Oral health to be part of the wider health debate

Bad oral health affects not only children's physical health but also their overall wellbeing, confidence, mental health and life chances

We believe that government should take a joined-up approach on sugar, recognising it is the principal agent behind both obesity and tooth decay.

We support the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges report which recognises that current strategies are failing to improve the diet and health of children and that an unprecedented coordinated approach is needed.

We want Government to involve dentists in the development and delivery of policies aimed at cutting sugar intake: oral health needs to be part of the wider health debate.

We are working with a range of other health organisations to encourage a lowering of sugar intakes, including supporting the work of the British Heart Foundation, the Children's Food Campaign and Action on Sugar.

What can dentists do? Top tips for patients on good oral health

The most important message dentists can give parents is to remember that it is not just the amount of sugar children eat or drink that causes tooth decay, but how often they have sugary foods and drinks.

A good oral hygiene routine is essential, as well as regular dental check-ups, and thinking carefully about the food and drinks that their children regularly consume

  • Our top tips are focused on helping raise awareness amongst your patients and promoting a positive oral health regime.
  • Tell us what you are doing to raise awareness, tweet us @thebda #cutsugar on Twitter or email to tell us what has worked in your practice to get the message across.

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