Dentists want soft-drink bottles emblazoned with a new picture to tell consumers at a glance exactly how many teaspoons of sugar the drink contains.

The Dental Association, whose members are regularly confronted with tooth decay caused by excess sugar consumption, is taking the fight to the Government from today with a position statement on what policies are needed to save our teeth.

Top of the list is a change to labelling rules to require a recognisable icon displaying the number of teaspoons of sugar.

"Current sugar labels rely on confusing calculations such as sugar per 100ml or per serve, rather than the total amount in the bottle," said association spokesman Dr Rob Beaglehole. "People are more familiar with teaspoon measurements."


"This is about informing the public about the negative health impacts of sugary drinks, and to advocate for a comprehensive approach to reduce sugary drink consumption."

A 600ml bottle of sugar-sweetened fizzy drink typically contains about 16 teaspoons of sugar.

The association's statement is supported by other dental groups, the Cancer Society, Diabetes NZ, the Heart Foundation and other health organisations.

The other actions it is calling for include:
• Independent monitoring of food marketing
• Adoption of the World Health Organisation's guidelines to limit sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of total energy, or less than 5 per cent for additional health benefits
• Warning labels on sugary drinks to highlight their risks for obesity, diabetes and tooth decay
• Water-only policies at councils
• Introduction of a sugar tax

The Beverage Council said there was "nothing new" in the association's demands.

It said consumption of regular soft drinks has declined by 4.2 per cent since 2010 and sales of low-energy and no-calorie soft drinks had risen significantly. Council members were reducing the amount of sugar in their products.

The council said it opposed the call for a soda tax as there is "no evidence that it works in reducing obesity".

However New Zealand researchers have calculated that a 20 per cent tax on soft drinks could save 67 lives a year by reducing ill-health.

Green Party health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter backed the association's call for a sugar tax.

"A sugary drinks tax could help save lives by reducing diabetes, strokes, obesity and cardiovascular damage," she said.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, who has repeatedly ruled out a sugar tax, wasn't available to comment today.