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Sugar causes major rise in tooth-extractions on young children

Article By: Melissa McAlees, News Editor

The cost of removing decayed teeth in young children has soared by 66 per cent in the last five years, leading to fears that young children’s ‘sugar addiction is spiralling out of control’, according to new research.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils, is demanding tougher action to tackle sugar addiction and urges the Government to address the issue in its forthcoming childhood obesity strategy.

This includes a reduction of sugar content and teaspoon labelling of sugar content in soft drinks, and greater availability of water in nurseries and schools as an alternative to soft drinks.

Izzi Seccombe, the LGA's community well-being spokeswoman, said: “Our children's teeth are rotting because they are consuming too much food and drink high in sugar far too often. Nearly half of 11 to 15-year-olds have a sugary drink at least once a day. As these figures show, we don't just have a child obesity crisis, but a children's oral health crisis too.

“What makes these numbers doubly alarming is the fact so many teeth extractions are taking place in hospitals rather than dentists. This means the level of tooth decay is so severe that removal is the only option. It goes to show that a good oral hygiene routine is essential, as well as how regular dentist trips can ensure tooth decay is tackled at an early stage.

“Poor oral health can affect children and young people's ability to sleep, eat, speak, play and socialise with others. Having good oral health can help children learn at school, and improve their ability to thrive and develop, not least because it will prevent school absence.”

Excessive consumption of fizzy drinks and sugary foods

Latest figures reveal that hospitals spent £35 million on multiple teeth extractions in under 18s in 2014/15, compared with £21 million in 2010/11. Over the last five years, this amounts to nearly £140 million.

Dental decay is the top cause of childhood hospital admission for young children with more than 100 operations to remove teeth taking place in hospitals rather than dentists, due to the severity of the tooth decay.

Council leaders believe that excessive consumption of fizzy drinks and foods high in added sugar are a major factor behind the surge in cases of treatment.

Last month Chancellor George Osborne announced a new sugar tax on the soft drinks industry which will be introduced in two years' time.

It comes amid mounting concern about rising obesity levels, as children under the age of ten in the UK are the biggest soft drinkers in Europe, with almost a fifth of their sugar intake consumed from soft drinks.

The sugar tax will be imposed on companies according to the volume of the sugar-sweetened drinks they produce or import. There will be two bands - one for total sugar content above five grammes per 100 millilitres and a second, higher band for the most sugary drinks with more than eight grammes per 100 millimetres.

Pure fruit juices and milk-based drinks will be excluded, and the smallest producers will have an exemption from the scheme.

’Introducing the sugar tax will save future NHS costs’

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, welcomes the sugar tax. He said: “This bold and welcome action will send a powerful signal and incentivise soft drinks companies to act on the health consequences of their products.

“While no child needs a daily dose of sugary fizzy water, sadly soft drinks are now our children’s largest single source of diabetes-inducing-teeth-rotting excess sugar.”

The Oral Health Foundation believe the Government has an important opportunity through the new sugar tax to increase levels of oral health education for children and families.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive officer of the Oral Health Foundation, commented on the research. “These figures are incredibly alarming on two levels. Firstly, we have seen these numbers consistently increase over the last five years. That is five years where an awful problem has been highlighted but not addressed. The Government has continually failed to acknowledged the problem and address it at its core.

“Secondly, and most importantly, we have to all remember that every single one of these problems is entirely preventable. Valuable NHS resources are being spent on a problem which should not exist in the first place. This is the issue which must be addressed urgently,” he said.

'Poor oral health affects children’s ability to sleep, eat and speak'

The LGA also highlight how poor oral health can affect children’s ability to sleep, eat, speak, play and socialise with others.

Dentist Dr Ben Atkins, trustee of the Oral Health Foundation added: “It is not just the cost of removing a child's tooth which needs to be taken into consideration here. The stress and pain put on a child who has to be admitted to hospital for tooth extractions under general anaesthetic takes a substantial toll.

"Tooth decay is one of the leading cause of children's admissions to hospital and the main reason they must undergo general anaesthetic; this is an embarrassing situation with all the advances we have seen in dentistry over the last few decades."

Liz Bayram, chief executive of Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) said: "We cannot allow children to undergo unnecessary dental procedures that are entirely preventable through good diet and oral hygiene. The sugar tax was a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to support parents, health and childcare professionals to understand how to ensure good oral health.

"A recent survey of our 30,000 members revealed that only under half of the children in their care visited a dentist regularly. Childcare professionals could play a greater role in helping improve the oral health of the nation’s children as their work supports children’s health and well-being as much as their educational development. We need a joined up approach to tackling this issue or levels of tooth decay in our children will continue to escalate."

Tooth decay is the destruction of tooth tissue caused by acids made by bacteria in dental plaque. The NHS recommends that children under three-years-old should have their teeth brush twice daily, with a smear of toothpaste containing no less than 1000ppm fluoride. For children between three and six-years-old, teeth should brush at least twice daily with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste containing more than 1000ppm fluoride.

From the age of three, children should also be offered fluoride varnish applications at least twice a year from the dentist to prevent decay.

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