Sweet success: Sugar tax saves thousands of children from tooth extractions | Health

A positive outcome reflects the tangible impact of policy measures aimed at curbing excessive sugar consumption as a new study has highlighted how the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy or the taxation introduced in 2018 of sugary products, has not only contributed to improved public health but has also served as a preventive measure, reducing the need for invasive dental procedures. The tax required the manufacturers of drinks with over 5g of sugar to pay a ‘sugar tax’ and now, a findings from a new research published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health underscores the effectiveness of public health initiatives in addressing the oral health challenges associated with high sugar intake, marking a noteworthy stride in promoting overall well-being.

Sweet success: Sugar tax saves thousands of children from tooth extractions, research shows (Photo by MM Dental on Pexels)

The World Health Organization tagged dental caries (also known as tooth decay or dental cavities) as the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide that affects general health and often causes pain and infection, which may result in tooth extraction while its severity is a frequent cause of absenteeism at school or work. The WHO stated that in many countries, sugars-sweetened beverages, including fruit-based and milk-based sweetened drinks and 100% fruit juices, are a primary source of free sugars, as well as confectionery, cakes, biscuits, sweetened cereals, sweet desserts, sucrose, honey, syrups and preserves but limiting free sugars intake to less than 10% of total energy intake – and ideally even further, to less than 5% – minimises the risk of dental caries throughout the lifecourse.

To inform the process of the Global Strategy on Oral health where the WHO is exploring cost-effective interventions for oral health, including taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), an umbrella review was conducted. The team looked at data from 2012, before the tax was introduced, to February 2020 and it was found that the number of under 18s having a tooth removed due to decay may have fallen by 12% as a result.

Based on a population of nearly 13 million children in England in 2020, the researchers estimated that the reduction avoided 5,638 admissions for tooth decay while the reductions in hospital admissions were greatest in younger children aged up to four years and among children aged five to nine years, with absolute reductions of 6.5 and 3.3 per 100,000 respectively. Study’s first Author, Dr Nina Rogers from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, the study’s first author, said, “This is an important finding given that children aged five to nine are the most likely to be admitted to hospital for tooth extractions under general anaesthesia.”

Professor David Conway, Co-Author of the study and professor of Dental Public Health at the University of Glasgow, said, “Tooth extraction under general anaesthesia is among the most common reasons for children to be admitted to hospital across the UK. This study shows that ambitious public health policies such as a tax on sugary drinks can impact on improving child oral health.”

According to the study, no significant changes in admission rates for tooth decay were seen in older age groups of 10–14 years and 15–18 years. Professor Sumantra Ray, Executive Director of the NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health, stated, “We welcome the publication of this research which attempts to draw the links between policy-level changes and the impact on early life oral/dental health outcomes which, if untoward, would produce a significant onward burden on dental services through the life course.”

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