Sugary Drinks Found To Be A Leading Cause Of Dental Decay In Australia
Australians are being urged to raise a glass of water to a cavity free future and join the fight against tooth decay by choosing water over alternative drinks for a week on World Cavity Free Future Day (WCFFD) commencing Saturday, 14 October.
On this day, Australians are encouraged to engage in conversations about the prevention of dental decay and share their progress on the challenge with other participants on Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #ChooseWater. The duration of the challenge coincides with National Water Week taking place from Oct 15 – 21, 2017.
As part of the campaign, a number of well-known Australian personalities including Rebecca Gawthorne, Nadia Felsch, Rachel Scoular amongst others have come on-board as Water Warriors to promote the #ChooseWater challenge through their social media channels.
The WCFFD campaign spearheaded by the Alliance for a Cavity Free Future (ACFF) in partnership with Colgate and the Australian Dental Association (ADA) has been developed with the collective aim of eradicating cavities in children born in 2026 and beyond.
'Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood1 and can have a profound impact on a child's health and quality of life. Improvement in the prevention of dental decay calls for increased collaboration between communities to work together to address the disease. Together we can educate the public and challenge leaders in dentistry and public health to take action," said Dr Rachel Martin, Specialist in Public Health Dentistry and representative of the Alliance for a Cavity Free Future.
The campaign inspired by results from the National Child Oral Health Study revealed that 27% of children aged 5-10 years had untreated tooth decay. In addition, a recent Colgate Cavity Report found teenage males consume the highest average daily sugar intake at 92g, the equivalent to 18 teaspoons per day.
Despite these concerns regarding the oral health of everyday Australians, awareness of the key causes of tooth decay remains strong with 99% of Australian parents agreeing the consumption of sugary food and drinks causes cavities in teeth.
The same Colgate study shows that currently a third of all Australians are consuming soft-drinks more than once a week with each serving containing 1.6 times the recommended daily intake of sugar.
In terms of active prevention, 87 per cent of parents have stated that brushing teeth twice a day is the most effective oral care tactic. Other popular prevention strategies include limiting consumption of sugary foods and drinks (73%) and drinking fluoridated water (33%).
According to Dr Susan Cartwright, Scientific Affairs Manager at Colgate Oral Care, 'choosing water over other sugary drinks is a simple and effective way to prevent tooth decay".
'Soft drinks contain excess calories and added sugars. By contrast, water is a low cost, calorie-free drink that helps to prevent tooth decay and other serious health concerns. Adults and dental professionals can encourage children by being role models and drinking water first. Making oral health an entertaining and shared experience is a great way to instil positive oral health behaviours in young children and set them up for a healthy adulthood," said Dr Cartwright.
High sugar consumption is linked not just to poor oral health but also a number of general health issues for children such as obesity and diabetes.
'The consumption of free sugars is the most significant behavioural risk factor for tooth decay, which is the most preventable chronic disease in Australia. The ADA is proud to support this initiative and encourages all Australians to choose water. Making water your drink of choice and regularly sipping it throughout the day, including with and right after meals, makes a real difference to the health of your teeth," said Dr Hugo Sachs, ADA President.
On 14 October, the Australian ACFF Chapter and supporters will hold outreach events, educational drives, and many more activities to encourage Australians to #ChooseWater and protect their oral health.
Australians can demonstrate their commitment to choosing water by using the #ChooseWater hashtag on social media.
Interview with Dr Susan Cartwright, Scientific Affairs Manager and Member of the Alliance for a Cavity Free Future
Question: What message do you hope to spread this World Cavity Free Future Day?
Dr Susan Cartright: The main aim of the day is to get people drinking water instead of sugary drinks and get chins wagging about oral health. As shown in the Colgate Cavity Report, more Aussies' this year, feel that their dental health is deteriorating, and it is alarming that 42% of children are affected by cavities. We want to let everyone know that cavities can be prevented by adopting healthy habits like drinking water and brushing twice a day. We'd also love everyone to share their progress on the day by sharing photographs using #ChooseWater.
Question: Are you surprised that dental cavities affect an alarming 42% of Australian children?
Dr Susan Cartright: Australians consume an average of 14 teaspoons (tsp) of free sugar* per day, well over the World Health Organisation's recommended maximum of 6 tsp a day, so it's not too surprising that this may be having an impact on our teeth. It's also apparent that there are many reasons such as fear and cost, that people don't visit the dentist – the Colgate Cavity Report reveals that one in ten Australian parents (11%) never visit the dentist!
The good news is that some behavioural changes and good habits instilled at an early age can help prevent tooth decay and cavities. In addition to choosing water, brushing twice a day and maintaining a healthy diet are the best ways to possess a winning grin. Many processed foods contain a lot of sugar and so food labels need to be read carefully to assess sugar content. Soft drinks, fruit juices, cakes and sweets, can cause damage to children's teeth if consumed frequently so be sure to limit these to meal times.
Question: How does switching from sugary drinks to water help reduce our likelihood of getting cavities?
Dr Susan Cartright: One 375 ml can of soft drink equates to a lot of sugar (approximately 1.6x the recommended daily intake) which then encourages the growth of decay causing bacteria. Although there are many good types of bacteria in the mouth, certain harmful oral bacteria actually feed on the sugars you eat to create acids that destroy the tooth enamel, which is the shiny, protective outer layer of the tooth. Cavities result when so much mineral in the tooth surface has been lost that the surface starts to pit and collapse into a hole.
Replacing sugary drinks with water wherever possible helps with hydration and saliva production which is protective for teeth. So by switching to water you're lowering your sugar intake and in turn reducing your chance of cavities.
Question: How can we all reduce our sugar consumption?
Dr Susan Cartright: The consumption of sugary food and drinks can lead to dental decay. According to the Colgate Report at least 10% of the added sugar we consume comes from cakes, muffins, scones and other cake-type desserts so it wouldn't hurt to cut down on these too. Drinks alone account for nearly a third (32%) of the added sugars in our diets (soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices). By contrast, water is a low cost, calorie-free drink that helps to prevent tooth decay and other serious health concerns – and that's what World Cavity-Free Future Day is all about! We're challenging Aussies to swap sugary drinks for water in the hope of spreading dental health awareness.
Question: What types of good dental health behaviours should parents be teaching their children?
Dr Susan Cartright: Some simple dental health behaviours that will help reduce cavities include:
Drinking water, it's good for you and your teeth. Replace sugary drinks with water whenever possible and stay hydrated. Saliva is very protective for your teeth and if you are dehydrated your saliva diminishes.
Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. This is one of the most effective ways to prevent tooth decay. It is especially important to make sure you brush before bed and don't eat or drink anything other than water after that.
Limiting consumption of sugary foods and drinks. Give your teeth a rest! It takes about 20 minutes for your mouth to get back to neutral after a sugar acid attack so the more often you snack on sugar the more acid your teeth have to fight off.
Question: How can we all take steps so that all children born in 2026 and beyond will be able to live cavity free for their lifetime?
Dr Susan Cartright: Adults and dental professionals can encourage children by being role models and drinking water first. Making oral health an entertaining and shared experience is a great way to instill positive oral health behaviours in young children. Here are some examples parents and children can follow to encourage healthy oral habits:
Make brushing fun by using stories, songs and games to engage the child.
The night-time brushing routine is the most important. Make brushing teeth the last thing children do before going to bed. Only water should be drunk after that so that bacteria in the mouth are not able to work on what is left sitting around the teeth overnight.
Encourage children to drink water rather than sugary drinks regularly through the day to stay hydrated and limit the effects of sugar
Take children to see your dental professional well before they are 2 years old. This will help to familiarise the child with the dental environment and it gives the dental professional a chance to assess your child's risk of disease and put some preventive measures in place.
Question: What other tips can you share to help us maintain a healthy smile for life?
Dr Susan Cartright: Visit your dental professional regularly- it is far better to find problems when they are small than to wait until you have pain or discomfort as this usually means a big and expensive problem!
Chewing sugar-free gum can stimulate saliva and help to protect your teeth
Don't smoke- smoking can discolour your teeth and is a risk factor for gum disease
*The term 'free sugars" refers to all sugar added to foods by manufacturers, cooks or consumers, as well as the sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit syrups.
Interview by Brooke Hunter