Last weekend I interviewed New Zealand Dental Association spokesman Rob Beaglehole on radio about the problems he sees with kids' teeth.

He spends much of his time removing rotten teeth from small children, who first have to be put under general anaesthetic. This costs about $4000 a pop.

Last year around 5000 kids under 8 needed to have this done. That's $20 million. Half our kids have rotten teeth, and 35,000 kids had one or more rotten tooth removed last year.

If you're an adult, think about this. Did you ever, as a child, have to have a tooth removed because it was too decayed to keep? I bet you didn't. This is a modern problem.


Ask Beaglehole what's causing it and he is unequivocal: a high-sugar diet, and especially sugary drinks.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the main source of sugar in our kids' diets.

When we think of sugary drinks, fizzy drinks may spring to mind. These are a big part of the problem, but there are lots of others, including the ones often labelled "lifestyle". Think energy drinks, iced teas, flavoured water and sports drinks.

Sports drinks are in the spotlight in the UK after research published in the British Dental Journal showed a high proportion of 12-14-year-olds are regularly consuming high-sugar sports drinks unnecessarily, for "social reasons".

Kids reported liking the sweet taste.

A range of UK health experts have expressed concern. Russ Ladwa of the British Dental Association said: "The rise of sports drinks as just another soft drink option among children is a real cause for concern and both parents and government must take note.

"They are laden with acids and sugars, and could be behind the decay problems we're now seeing among top footballers."

We don't have equivalent research here, so don't really know why Kiwi kids - or adults - choose sports drinks.

Beaglehole suggests it's partly due to the influence of the All Blacks - possibly our most powerful role models - who are sponsored by Gatorade.

Children have told him they drink sports drinks "because Richie does".

The Dental Association has called for an end to sports sponsorship by marketers of unhealthy products.

A 750ml bottle of Powerade has about 9 tsp of added sugar. Well over a day's worth of sugar for a child.

Adults rarely need these drinks, either. Although they are marketed for people playing sport, unless you are exercising intensely for long periods, water is all you need for hydration.

The All Blacks can claim a legitimate use for Gatorade. A weekend warrior out for a bike ride doesn't really need it.

Wouldn't it be amazing to see the power of the All Blacks' harnessed for good.

A water brand sponsorship could influence a generation of kids - and save their teeth.

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide.