Tens of thousands of young children are suffering from rotting teeth caused by drinking fruit juice and squash, a major study has revealed. As many as one in eight children have suffered tooth decay by the age of three — although in some parts of England the rates are as high as a third. Senior dentists say the problem is often caused by well-meaning parents giving toddlers sugar-laden drinks in bottles and beakers. They are now urging families to restrict children to milk and water.
Middle-class parents who buy expensive organic juices in the belief they are healthier have been warned they can contain as much sugar as a glass of coke. One health official observed: “Posh sugar is no better than any other sugar.” Earlier this year health officials urged the public to cut their sugar intake to between five and seven teaspoons a day to prevent rising levels of obesity and rotting teeth.
A 200ml glass of organic apple juice contains 20 grams of sugar — nearly five teaspoons — only slightly less than the same amount of coke, which has 22 grams.
Experts, including the chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, have called for a tax to be slapped on sugary drinks to deter the public from buying them.
In the first study of its kind, officials at Public Health England — a Government agency — examined the teeth of a sample of 53,640 three-year-olds at nursery schools. They found an average of 12 percent — one in eight — had tooth decay ranging from small holes, needing fillings or having teeth extracted. If the trend is repeated across England, then nearly 85,000 three-year-olds have rotten teeth.
Leicester has the highest rates, with 34 percent of three-year-olds having rotten teeth. Others included the relatively affluent boroughs of Hillingdon, West London, at 25 percent, and Charnwood in Leicestershire at 29 percent.
‘Biggest culprit is fruit juice’
Sandra White, director of dental health for Public Health England, said: “The biggest culprit is fruit juice. Organic apple juice sounds healthy on the packet, but actually it’s packed with sugar. “Posh sugar is no better than any other sugar. “Parents think they are doing good, but fruit juice needs to be restricted to one small glass a day.
“Our key advice for under three is just have water and milk, that way they won’t get a taste for the sweeter liquids that cause decay.” Many parents give children fruit juice or squash in bottles and beakers to comfort them or before bed. They may suck them for hours on end — with the sugar slowly eroding their teeth. Officials say if children must have juice it should be from a cup which is drunk quickly, causing minimal harm to their teeth.
Although the decay affects children’s milk teeth, which fall out naturally, experts say it also harms their gums making them more prone to infection in adulthood. This is the first time such a survey has been carried out so it is impossible to know if the problem is getting worse. But NHS figures published in July showed the number of children being admitted to hospital with tooth decay had risen by 14 percent in three years.
Dr Christopher Allen, chairman of the British Dental Association’s dental public health committee, said: “Parents may feel that giving sugar-sweetened drinks is comforting, but in reality it’s more likely to cause pain and suffering as it is the major cause of tooth decay in toddlers.”