Aussie study highlights link between soft drinks, caries

Researchers from the University of Adelaide say any health warnings about soft drinks should include the risk of tooth decay, following a new study that looks at the consumption of sweet drinks and fluoridated water by Australian children (American Journal of Public Health, January 17, 2013).

"There is growing scrutiny on sweet drinks, especially soft drinks, because of a range of detrimental health effects on adults and children," said lead study author Jason Armfield, PhD, from the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health at the university's School of Dentistry.

The study looked at the consumption of sweet drinks and fluoridated water by more than 16,800 Australian children enrolled in Australian school dental services in 2002 to 2005. Dental staff assessed dental caries, and parents completed a questionnaire about their child's residential history, sources of drinking water, toothbrushing frequency, socioeconomic status, and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.

Here are some of the study's findings:

  • 56% of Australian children ages 5 to 16 years consumed at least one sugared drink per day.
  • 13% of children consumed three or more sugared drinks on average per day.
  • Boys consume more sweet drinks than girls.
  • Children from the lowest income families consumed almost 60% more sugared drinks.
  • The number of decayed, missing, and filled deciduous (or baby) teeth was 46% higher among children who consumed three or more sweet drinks per day, compared with children who did not consume sweet drinks.

"Consistent evidence has shown that the high acidity of many sweetened drinks, particularly soft drinks and sports drinks, can be a factor in dental erosion, as well as the sugar itself contributing to tooth decay," Armfield said.

The study also showed that greater exposure to fluoridated water significantly reduces the association between children's sweet drink consumption and tooth decay, which reconfirms the benefits of community water fluoridation for oral health, he added.

"If health authorities decide that warnings are needed for sweet drinks, the risk to dental health should be included," Armfield said. "This action, in addition to increasing the access to fluoridated water, would benefit children's teeth greatly."

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