Niki Bezzant: Our teeth are under attack

Dentists are asking us to boycott sugary drinks. Photo / File
Dentists are asking us to boycott sugary drinks. Photo / File

I received a media release from the New Zealand Dental Association this week, and reading between the lines, it's clear the dentists are getting fed up.

They're sick of treating people who are suffering the effects of drinking too much sugar.

They'd much rather work on prevention than spend so much time repairing the damage.

Last year, they tell us, 29,000 children had one or more teeth removed due to dental decay.

And they're laying the blame for this squarely at the door of sugary drinks.

It's Oral Health Month, the association's annual awareness campaign, and the main focus this year is on ditching the sugary drinks and switching to water. They're challenging Kiwis to take part in a 30-day challenge; to switch to water for the whole month of November (and ideally beyond).

It's easy to understand how fizzy drinks are bad for our teeth.

They're concentrated shots of sugar; often supplying us with more than our daily limit for added sugar in a single serve.

What many people don't know is that even diet versions of carbonated drinks are highly acidic, so even though they don't contain sugar they still contribute to dental decay.

Non-fizzy drinks are problematic, too.

Sports drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, iced teas and flavoured waters all contain various amounts of sugar, and sipping on any of them still means our teeth are under attack.

Switching to fruit juice is no better.

The World Health Organisation classes fruit juice in the "free sugars" category, meaning it's the same as other added sugars such as table sugar, syrups, honey and fruit concentrate. Even though it's from fruit, the sugar in juice is concentrated, and there can be as much sugar in a juice as there is in other types of sugary drinks.

The Ministry of Health updated its guidelines last year to say that fruit juice no longer counts as a fruit serve; we're far better off eating whole fruit instead to get our vitamins.

Dentists get particularly twitchy when they see toddlers with juice in bottles, or kids with juice in sipper bottles.

Constantly sipping on sugary drinks means the teeth are being constantly bathed in sugar, and this is a big contributor to tooth decay in kids.

Switching to water has benefits beyond oral health.

Water is cheap or free (you can save $60 a month by switching a daily can of soft drink for tap water), and it's available everywhere.

Water helps us stay hydrated, so our bodily functions work better and we think more clearly.

Not everyone loves plain water.

To make it interesting you can try zhuzhing it up with non-sugary flavourings.

Add a few slices of fruit in the water jug or bottle, or try one of the new "cold brew" iced fruit teas.

We don't need to be constantly attached to a water bottle - the "eight glasses a day" thing is a bit of a myth - but making water our main drink is definitely a healthy move.

To sign the petition for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, go to www.change.org and search for "sugar".

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide.

- NZ Herald

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