Almost half of Bay of Plenty preschoolers have tooth decay, health board statistics show.

The most recent district health board figures showed 49 per cent of Bay of Plenty five-year-olds examined had tooth decay. Of those who did, each child had an average of more than five teeth affected by rot.

Statistically, the situation has improved.

Childhood decay has slowly decreased in the Bay. In 2014, 56 per cent of children had decay, and 54 per cent last year.

Advertisement

Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease in New Zealand - and experts put the blame on sugary drinks.

In fact, nationally, 29,000 children aged 1-14 had teeth removed due to decay in the last 12 months, according to Ministry of Health.

New Zealand Dental Association spokesperson Rob Beaglehole said kids as young as two are drinking fizzy drink out of baby bottles.

It's scandalous, how much unnecessary pain and suffering is caused by these sugary drinks.

A tax on high sugar drinks was an option. A recent scientific poll found two-thirds of New Zealanders wanted an additional tax imposed on sugary drinks.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board Head of Oral Health Rudi Johnson said the health board had a number of initiatives to provide dental services, raise awareness and educate the public.

The district health board's annual report this year said although it hadn't achieved its quite lofty target of reducing childhood decay to 36 per cent, "public health campaigns and debate on effects of sugary drinks [raised the] profile for good oral health".

"BOPDHB's key oral health messages are... promote early enrolment with its Community Dental Service, emphasise the importance of attending dental appointments, promote brushing teeth twice every day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft bristled toothbrush, and encourage eating and drinking healthy (reduce sugary drinks and foods)," Dr Johnson said.

She said the health board was working hard to get all preschoolers enrolled in oral health services, which were free for all New Zealanders under 18.

Advertisement

Earlier this year the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently urged governments to put a 20 per cent tax on high-sugar drinks.

The UK has committed to doing so by 2018, following France, Hungary, Mexico and Norway. Mexico's sugar tax has led to declines in consumption of fizzy drinks of 5.5 and 9.7 per cent in the first two years.

Dr Beaglehole said the Government must implement a tax on sugary drinks, among other measures.

"It's scandalous, how much unnecessary pain and suffering is caused by these sugary drinks," Dr Beaglehole said.

"It's very awkward the Government is not taking note and introducing an evidence-based policy, particularly when the WHO urgently recommends all countries to adopt a tax," Dr Beaglehole said.

He pointed to the Government being very committed to adding a tax on tobacco and to reduce use.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he was not yet convinced on the benefits of such a tax on sugary drinks.

"If they're not interested in reducing the pain and suffering of young children, hopefully they're interested in reducing the burden on taxpayers in terms of the amount of money this is costing," Dr Beaglehole said.

BOPDHB didn't explicitly say if it would back a sugar tax, responding: "BOPDHB would support any government policy that would help improve oral health outcomes for children."