Dr Deepi Murphy, looks at what a ban on sales to children will mean for their teeth.
According to news reports out today, the government is considering banning the sales of ‘sports drinks’ to children. There is some debate as to whether this will apply to just under 16s or include under 18s as well. Whilst here at Clocktower Dental we believe that the latter would be the better option, even a ban to the under 16s could bring useful improvements for oral health.
We have mentioned before that energy and sports drinks have been linked to a rising number of cases of tooth decay, and, with some of these drinks containing up to the equivalent of 20 sugar cubes per can, this is not really surprising.
Caffeine and sugar
Although perhaps not creating many problems from a dental point of view, a lot of these drinks contain a large quantity of caffeine, approximately the equivalent of two espresso coffees. Most parents wouldn’t, for a second, think about fueling their children with coffee, although they may also be unaware that their children are consuming these high caffeine drinks bought outside of the home. It seems likely that some children are choosing to skip breakfast, opting instead for a high energy drink on their way to school. Whilst this may provide a boost in the morning, some teachers have reported attention problems later in the day as the drinks wear off.
As a dentist, it is the sugar in these drinks that is a major problem for our Epsom patients. Whilst we are focusing on children regarding the ban, many adults also use these drinks to give them an instant ‘lift’, and even though sales may not be banned to them, we strongly advise taking note of the reasons for it, and reducing consumption accordingly.
Any soft drink that contains sugar is harmful to your teeth. With some of these sports drinks containing more than double the quantity of sugar of regular soft drinks, the risk of decay and other dental problems are greatly increased. Sugar acts as a fuel for some of the harmful bacteria that live in our mouth and as the bacteria digest the sugars, they produce acids which damage the enamel on our teeth. Once damaged, this allows bacteria to enter the inner parts of our teeth, with decay and toothache most likely and just a matter of time.
Whilst we can restore most teeth damaged in this way, for example using a tooth coloured filling or a Cerec produced crown, it is far better to prevent this problem from arising in the first place. Good home care, reduced sugar consumption and regular dental visits are prerequisites for this.
It is fairly obvious that a high sugar diet may lead to obesity, which in turn means that type 2 diabetes is more likely. This disease can have a number of unpleasant side effects, and can even affect your oral health. Unfortunately, diabetics are more likely to suffer from gum disease than other people. With periodontitis especially, being linked to a host of other medical problems, such as strokes and Alzheimer’s disease, it makes sense to keep our gums in good health. For most people, this means regular brushing and flossing, combined with six monthly cleaning by the hygienist at our Epsom practice. For diabetics, we recommend that professional cleans are carried out more frequently.
Will the ban work?
Whilst some larger stores have been refusing to sell sports drinks to children for some time, they are still widely available at smaller shops. Some of these may well be on the school route and may depend on sales to schoolchildren for a significant part of their income. Whilst there may still be some less reputable shops who continue to sell these drinks to children, most will probably not wish to risk prosecution and will hopefully respect any ban.
There is still the risk, of course, that some parents will continue to buy the drinks for their children. We hope that the awareness of the harm that these drinks can do will highlight the problems and make the parents and other adults think twice about doing so. Sports drinks are not a substitute for food, and with some of them being linked to stomach problems, lack of sleep and irritability in children especially, in our opinion, this ban can only be a positive move.
Children’s oral health care is available at our Epsom practice, and whether your child consumes these drinks or not, regular dental checks are strongly advised. Appointments can be made by calling our family-friendly team on 01372 720136.
Dr Deepi Murphy is a dentist at the Clock Tower Dental Clinic (GDC 66005).