9 Sep 2014

NZ - Excess sugar blamed for dental decay

Esme Palliser
SUGAR OVERLOAD: Oral health educator Esme Palliser, left, and adolescent oral health educator Maree Nevill with a wheelbarrow full of 11 5-kilogram bags of sugar in Richmond Mall
The region's oral health expert is generous to a fault in refusing to blame the parents of kids whose teeth have been munted by excessive sugar consumption.
It's all very well to take a non-confrontational line, but some of the cases seen of late by dental clinics suggest parenting that is lacking to the point of child abuse.
Nelson Marlborough principal dental officer Rob Beaglehole offers a distressing case to support his contention that sugar is one of this country's greatest and most insidious health issues.
A six-year-old boy was taken to a Blenheim dental clinic in excruciating pain with a mouthful of rotten teeth, caused by excessive consumption of high-sugar fizzy-drinks.
Beaglehole says the boy and his family had each been drinking 1.5 litres of cola a day. The youngster's oral health issues will result in ongoing problems.
Our top dentist says rotten teeth are having to be extracted from toddlers as young as 18 months, and more than $1-million a year is being spent on oral surgery under general anaesthetic for Nelson-Marlborough children.
He is right to suggest the money could be better spent. The issue is exacerbated in this region where, despite overwhelming scientific evidence in favour of fluoridation, the public water supplies are fluoride-free.
He's also right to suggest that canny marketing - including the use of images of the All Blacks drinking Coca-Cola - adds to the problem.
You don't see the country's most bankable role-models pushing tobacco. Yet here they are officially promoting another harmful-yet-legal product. Coca-Cola NZ would not be sponsoring the All Blacks without there being some payback.
But surely poor parenting is also a significant part of the problem. No adult resident in New Zealand can be unaware that obesity is a significant and growing health issue.
Understanding the importance of good diet is surely basic parenting. Only an idiot would see giving primary school-age kids a large bottle of coke to guzzle on each day as acceptable.
Just as bad was the side-story of a two-year-old fed coke from a baby bottle, to the point that the teeth had dissolved down to the gum-line and were bleeding.
According to Beaglehole, excessive sugar consumption is an even greater health threat than alcohol and tobacco. It can lead to obesity, diabetes and, of course, tooth decay.
Sugar is certainly all-pervading in the typical Western diet. Most food products sold in supermarkets and dairies contain added sugar, as a closer look at the labels will show.
Buying into an argument about which product is the most dangerous is pointless. Both sugar and alcohol have their place but can be dangerous - even deadly - when consumed too frequently and to excess. Tobacco is just bad, full stop.
- The Nelson Mail

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