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NZ dentist backs call for warning labels on soft drinks

NZ dentist backs call for warning labels on soft drinks

New Zealand dentist Dr Andrea Shepperson has backed a call from Australian dental experts1 for sugared drinks to carry warning labels declaring their risk to dental health.

The call was made by the lead author of a study recently released by the University of Adelaide2, Dr Jason Armfield, and was supported by the Australian Dental Association. The study found that 56% of Australian children aged five to 16 consumed at least one sugared drink a day and that 13% consumed three or more sugared drinks a day.

''Consistent evidence has shown that high acidity of many sweetened drinks, particularly soft drinks and sports drinks, can be a factor in dental erosion, as well as the sugar itself contributing to tooth decay,'' says Dr Armfield1.

The number of decayed, missing and filled baby teeth was 46% higher among children who consumed three or more sweet drinks a day, compared with children who did not consume any.

Sugared drinks commonly contain added food acids and many contain caffeine. “The risks of caffeine were highlighted this week by the coroner’s finding in the death of Natasha Harris, who was consuming up to 10 litres of CocaCola a day,” says Dr Shepperson. “Caffeine can create a dry mouth and it reduces the protective effect of saliva on teeth. These ingredients are a lethal combination that can cause dental erosion and decay.”

Shepperson distinguishes erosion from decay. “Erosion is the chemical dissolving of tooth enamel from an acid source – often a drink. It is recognised by pits or potholes in back teeth, hollow and worn teeth, and teeth that are getting darker in colour or more sensitive. The patterns are different but the outcomes are similar – unnecessary and avoidable damage to teeth, caused largely by our diet.”

“Warning labels on drinks outlining the risks of dental erosion would be a sensible guideline,” says Dr Shepperson.

“The danger with dental erosion is that it’s not only caused by soft drinks – it’s also caused by fruit juices, sports drinks, caffeinated energy drinks, some herbal teas; even detox and diet drinks.

“As a result, consumers can think they’re drinking a healthy product but it is in fact extremely detrimental to their teeth. I see new cases of dental erosion every day, and often patients are surprised to discover its cause. Warning labels would go a long way to counteract this problem.”

Dr Shepperson says that although the study was conducted in Australia, it should be taken seriously by New Zealanders. “This study is extremely relevant for New Zealanders, as we share a similar lifestyle to our Australian counterparts. We are likely experiencing a comparable level of dental erosion here.”

In New Zealand, 45% of children aged five to 14 consume soft drinks and 43% consume fruit juice more than once a week3.

New Zealand also shares its Food Standards Authority with Australia, meaning that any decision made about food labelling could be applies to both countries.


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