Oral disease remains a serious public health issue. Its impact on individuals and communities in terms of pain and suffering, impairment of function and reduced quality of life is considerable (WHO, 2007). In childhood, dental caries is the most common chronic disease. Dental caries although preventable still affects many children, particularly those from disadvantaged social backgrounds. (Watt & Rouxel, 2012). The most recent national survey of children's oral health found that approximately 42% of 5-year olds, 50% of 12-year olds and 75% of 15-year olds have experienced dental caries. (Whelton et al, 2006).
Dental caries and treatment is traumatic for a child, it may result in pain, lead to infection and result in hospitalisation and extraction of teeth under general anaesthetic. Those that experience decay in primary (baby) teeth are more likely to have future dental problems.
Evidence suggests a significant causative factor is a high frequency of consumption of sugar sweetened foods and drinks (Moynihan, 2005; Sheiham & James, 2014). The high consumption of products such as fizzy drinks, sweets, biscuits and chocolate starts at a very young age (Growing Up in Ireland, 2011). Research shows a worrying trend with consumption increasing with age (Kelly et al, 2010). This combined with the inadequate toothbrushing habits of Irish children, where only one in three children reporting brushing their teeth the recommended twice a day (Kelly et al, 2010), is detrimental to their oral health.
The vital role oral health plays in our daily lives, in terms of eating, speaking, smiling and socialising, is often overlooked but it is impossible to separate oral health from general health: behaviours that cause general disease are also implicated in oral disease. High sugar intake, for example, is linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and dental decay.
Growing Up in Ireland. The Health of 3-year-olds (2011) [Available at: http://www.growingup.ie/index.php?id=83, cited 08/12/2014]
Kelly, C et al (2012) The Irish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) 2010, Health Promotion Research Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway and Department of Health
Moynihan, P.J., 2005, Bulletin of WHO, The role of diet and nutrition in the etiology and prevention of oral diseases, Vol 83, No. 9, p641-720
Sheiham A and James W (2014) BMC Public Health A reappraisal of the quantitative relationship between sugar intake and dental caries: the need for new criteria for developing goals for sugar intake, 14:863
Watt, RG & Rouxel, PL (2012) Dental caries, sugars and food policy. Arch Dis Child doi:10.1136/archdischild-2012-301818
Whelton et al (2006) North South Survey of Children's Oral Health in Ireland, 2002
World Health Organization (WHO). Sixtieth World Health Assembly (2007) Oral health: Action plan for promotion and integrated disease prevention.