13 Feb Sugary and fizzy drinks are leading British children down a path of pain, poor oral health and thousands of tooth extractions
In the latest of our junk food and sports sponsorship blogs, guest author Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, discusses the detrimental impact sugary drinks are having on children’s teeth, why so-called “diet” drinks may not be as innocent as some believe and the need for tighter regulations for the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks.
A child in England has a rotten tooth removed in hospital under general anaesthetic every ten minutes. With each passing year, more and more children are put under a lot of pain and distress to rectify a problem that, in the vast majority of cases, is entirely preventable.
The problem is clear: children are consuming too much sugar and far too often. On top of this being a major factor contributing to childhood obesity and diabetes, it is also the root cause of tooth decay. This is an oral health issue that, due to the number of operations being carried out each year, is causing unnecessary suffering as well as a financial impact for the NHS.
The annual cost of removing rotten teeth has passed the £36m mark. This will continue to rise in line with the number of children suffering with decayed teeth unless this problem is addressed.
Good oral health and a healthy diet go hand-in-hand. Regular visits to the dentist and good oral care at home are, of course, essential for a healthy mouth. However, tooth brushing alone is not the magic wand many people believe it to be. Preventing problems like tooth decay must involve changing diet and addressing overconsumption of sugar.
There are a lot of soft drinks on the market that are packed with many teaspoons of sugar, causing damage with every sip. For children who have them, it becomes very easy for them to exceed their recommended daily intake of sugar – even before lunchtime.
Zero sugar, zero hassle?
Many people also fall into the trap of thinking that so-called “diet” drinks are okay for their teeth because they contain no sugar. Despite being low-in-sugar or sugar free, these drinks may still be highly acidic. This means they can still wreak havoc on our oral health. Acidic soft drinks erode the enamel on the surface of our teeth. This is particularly hazardous for younger children, as their enamel is softer than that of an adult, making it more susceptible to harm.
Lowering the sugar content and acidity is a responsibility soft drinks manufacturers must accept. The health of future generations is at stake and sugar is without doubt the biggest obstacle they face.
Despite this, children are relentlessly exposed to the lure of soft drinks. One of the most dangerous forms is through sporting partnerships and sponsorships. These do not only encourage children to take a less healthy route, they glamorise it. Three of the biggest sporting events, the World Cup, the Olympics and the Premier League, have partnerships with Coca Cola – one of the biggest manufacturers of sugary and acidic drinks in the world.
All three events pull in viewers in their billions. Many of whom are young and impressionable. They are being continuously bombarded with adverts for fizzy acidic drinks, or sports drinks that also have the potential to cause harm due to their sugar content. It is a damning indictment on the use of partnerships in sport and undoubtably has an impact on the nutritional choices that children make.
Sadly, money talks when considering sponsorships and ethics are all too often left to one side. Companies like Coca Cola have a vast amount of wealth to influence even the most prestigious sporting competitions and their audiences.
Until competitions like the Premier League, or governments, place a ban on soft drink advertising similar to that of tobacco, we will not see a reduction in consumption, or improvements in oral health.
Promotion of healthy living and how to attain good health must be a priority. To ensure a better future for tomorrow’s generations, we must push for tighter regulations for the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks and develop positive approaches to promote better lifestyle choices.
Dr Nigel Carter OBE is Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation with a keen interest in public health and experience in health promotion. Dr Carter has been a dentist for more than four decades and started his career as a general dental practitioner with a mixed NHS and private practice based in Birmingham. He is also the current chairman of the Platform for Better Oral Health In Europe, a lobby group based in Brussels liaising with European parliamentarians and the European Commission
The Oral Health Foundation is an independent charity (not for profit) dedicated to improving oral health and wellbeing around the world. The Oral Health Foundation works closely with governments, dental and health professionals, manufacturers, the dental trade, national and local agencies and the public, to achieve their mission of addressing the inequalities which exist in oral health, changing people’s lives for the better.