No-one can have failed to notice the big push towards reducing sugar in our diet, especially among children. The reason for this is twofold - firstly that there is an obesity epidemic, and secondly because our children are losing their teeth to decay and acid erosion at an alarming rate and unnecessarily.
Indeed, the latest figures from the Government indicate that nearly half of 15-year-olds and a third of 12-year-olds have untreated decay or fillings, or have lost teeth to decay - and this is affecting their adult teeth. Meanwhile, at age 12 a quarter of children in the UK have suffered acid erosion of teeth beyond that which you would expect for their years, increasing to 31% by age 15.
High-profile figures such as Jamie Oliver are working hard to promote the idea of reduced sugar intake and are doing great work educating families about decay and obesity. Jamie's 'tax' on sugary drinks has been well publicised, but little has been said about how many of those sugar-laden beverages also contribute to dental erosion; yet frequent consumption can lead to an equally damaging outcome.
Over time, acid erosion may result in short and unattractive teeth which may also become rough and sensitive. If left to continue its damaging course, teeth may require extensive and expensive restorative treatment further down the line.
Dental erosion is caused by consuming acidic foods and drinks; the acid attacking the outer enamel surface of the teeth. Culprits include fruit juices, smoothies, sports beverages and fizzy drinks (including sugar-free, as it happens), as well as foods otherwise considered to be healthy like citrus fruits, yoghurt and honey.
The good news is that there are lots of simple steps you can incorporate into your family's lifestyle without too much effort on your part. While they won't reverse any damage already done, they can make sure things don't get any worse. To help prevent dental erosion, try to:
• Drink still water or low fat milk between meals
• Limit fruit juice to once per day and avoid fizzy drinks
• Rinse the mouth with water for 15 to 30 seconds after consuming acidic foods or drinks
• Chew sugar-free gum or eat a piece of cheese after consuming acidic food or drink
• Wait at least an hour to brush teeth after consuming any acidic foods or drinks
• Use an age-appropriate toothpaste that contains fluoride and a non-abrasive toothbrush
• Use an age-appropriate fluoridated mouthwash every day at a different time to tooth brushing, as well as before or after acidic foods and drinks, to help limit the erosive potential.
Focusing on this important but often overlooked issue, Professor Andrew Eder, an expert in tooth wear and Clinical Director of the London Tooth Wear Centre said "With more than a third of 12-year-olds and over a quarter of 15-year-olds reported as being embarrassed to smile or laugh due to the condition of their teeth, this problem has the potential for far-reaching consequences beyond the physical."
"To provide some guidance on healthier options, sugar-free squash has erosive potential, but with a lower acidic level than fruit juice it may be a practical alternative and far less damaging than fizzy drinks particularly when diluted. Milk can also be a good option, but perhaps not suitable for drinking throughout the day."
"Now widely available in the UK is coconut water. It has an acceptable acidic level, is hydrating, entirely natural and isotonic, which means it is similar in composition to that of the fluid in the human body. There are several flavours available but because fruit juice has been added to these, drinking the plain version is best. If you really can't see a way to eliminate acidic soft drinks from your diet, limiting them to meal times is greatly beneficial"
"Finally, if you're worried about tooth wear, tell your dentist. They are, after all, there to help and will be able to make a diagnosis, provide guidance or refer you on, if appropriate. Alternatively, the London Tooth Wear Centre offers an evidence-based and comprehensive approach to managing tooth wear, using the latest clinical techniques and an holistic approach in a professional and friendly environment."