The Sugar Tax: implications for oral health

January 4th, 2017

You are likely to have heard about the proposed sugar tax recently. UK soft drinks companies will be required to pay a tax on drinks, with the level of this determined by the sugar content of the product. The BBC have recently reported on this matter, and have considered what the implications of this tax maybe for the health of children, including the impact it may have on levels of tooth decay.

Children are often attracted by fizzy and sugary drinks. Whilst the odd treat at a birthday party or special event will do little harm, for some children levels of consumption of sugary drinks is much higher. This is when is can become much more dangerous for their health. As well as potentially leading to obesity, or to the development of type 2 diabetes, sugar consumption can lead to tooth decay. Consuming too much sugar can cause cavities to form on our teeth, and fillings may be required. In the worst cases, teeth may be too badly damaged, and may need to be removed.

The BBC reported on a study which considered the different responses that soft drinks companies could take to the new taxes, which take effect in April 2018. The study suggested that one such approach might be for drinks companies to look to reduce the amount of sugar they put into the drinks. By reducing the sugar content in the most sugary drinks by a third, and by about 15% in those drinks described as ‘mid-sugar’ drinks, the study suggested that there could potentially be approximately 269,000 fewer cases of tooth decay each year. On the other hand, if sugar levels stayed the same, but the price went up (with the new tax cost being passed on to the consumer), a reduction in tooth decay was still predicted, but only of 149,000 fewer cases. Whilst these figures reflect adult and child reductions combined, children consume more sugary drinks than adults and so the impact will be most noticeable in our young population.

However, within the article, the BBC present alternative viewpoints, which state that there are other factors at play, and that other considerations need to be made before the predicted improvements can be seen. For example, when considering the sources of added sugar for children aged 11-18, although sugary drinks were the highest source of extra sugar, they only accounted for about a quarter of a child’s daily added sugar intake. Other items such as cereals, sweets and fruit juice also contributed to the overall amount.

In conclusion, it would seem that there is potential for the sugar taxes, when they come into effect in April 2018, to have a positive impact on the amount of sugar consumed by children, and hopefully this might lead to a reduction in tooth decay. However, a much wider approach needs to be considered, and attempts to reduce sugar content in a much broader range of products is likely to lead to much more noticeable and sustainable reductions in child tooth decay.

For the full BBC article, and for details of the research carried out, please visit the BBC website.

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