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Arch Dis Child doi:10.1136/archdischild-2012-301818
  • Leading article

Dental caries, sugars and food policy

  1. Patrick L Rouxel
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Richard Watt, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL, 1–19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK; r.watt{at}ucl.ac.uk
  1. Contributors RGW originally conceived the idea for the article, prepared a draft and finalised the article. PLR wrote sections of the article and contributed to the final edit.

  • Received 2 February 2012
  • Accepted 25 April 2012
  • Published Online First 9 June 2012

Introduction

At the recent UN summit on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, oral conditions were highlighted as one of the major global health priorities.1 In childhood, dental caries (tooth decay) is the main oral disease. Dental caries although preventable still affects many children, particularly those from more disadvantaged social backgrounds. In high- and middle-income countries, caries rates overall have declined in recent decades. In low-income countries, however, the prevalence of caries is rising rapidly due to the increasing availability and consumption of sugary foods and drinks.

Dental caries has a significant impact on a child's quality of life. The consequences of caries include pain and discomfort, chronic infection, sleepless nights and hospitalisation for tooth extractions. The consumption of sugary foods and drinks is the key cause of dental caries. High sugars consumption is also associated with weight gain and obesity. Current clinical caries preventive approaches are ineffective in tackling oral health inequalities, and are too costly for most populations. A paradigm shift in preventive approaches is urgently required to tackle the underlying causes of dental caries. The aim of this paper is to highlight the public health significance of dental caries and to stress the key aetiological role played by sugars consumption in both caries development and obesity. Proposals are then outlined for public health strategies to reduce sugars consumption to promote child health.

Public health significance of oral diseases in childhood

Despite being a preventable condition, dental caries is highly prevalent and has a significant negative impact on the individuals affected and wider society.2 Globally, epidemiological studies indicate that between 40% and 90% of 12-year-old children have dental caries, with the highest rates found in South …

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