It’s every child’s nightmare, though most of us have known it for years, that eating too much sugary food and consuming too many acidic drinks means trouble for teeth.
According to research carried out by the Department of Health more than half of youngsters in Britain suffer from tooth decay.
The survey, on the link between dental health and diet, suggests children still eat huge amounts of sugary and acidic food – a trend which actually increases with age – even though older children are more aware sweets and fizzy drinks damage their teeth.
The survey of 1,700 children is the most comprehensive research carried out on the link between diet and dental health.
‘Teeth are improving’
Its results act as a warning to children and parents that among 7-10 year olds in particular, there is a significant link between sugary food and tooth decay.
The findings paint a poor picture of our children’s dental health – though the government is quick to point out that overall, their teeth are improving.
But it seems 53% of those aged between four and 18 in Britain suffer from dental decay – with the number of cases highest in Scotland, (66%) and lowest in London and the South East (44%).
It is a problem that appears to get worse with age.
Dental decay in some form affects 37% of those aged between four and six, 55% of seven to 10 year olds, 51% of 11-14 year olds and 67% of 15-18 year olds.
Researchers discovered 35% of the entire age group were also found to have unhealthy gums. This was the case in 16% of those aged between four and six and 44% of 11-18 year olds.
More than half of those aged between four and 18 also suffered from dental erosion – when acid found for example in fizzy drinks and some fruit juices directly rots the teeth.
This significantly increased among teenagers, as did the consumption of such drinks.
But despite the incidence of tooth decay and erosion, the majority of youngsters do seem to be aware of the importance of dental hygiene – two thirds of them brush their teeth twice a day.
Most have visited the dentist at least once. Those who said they went for regular check ups were also found to have significantly less decay.
The findings of the research, based on interviews and dental examinations of children across the country, will be used to reinforce the message to youngsters, that if they take good care of their teeth most dental disease can be prevented.
Health Minister Lord Philip Hunt said: “The necessity of eating a wide range of foods necessary for healthy growth and development into maturity is obviously important.
“In general terms childrens’ teeth are improving. However, most dental disease is preventable and many of the findings in this detailed report reinforce key existing oral health promotion messages.
Ministers plan to publish plans for modernising NHS dentistry later this summer.