The Irish Dental Association has warned that a diet high in sugary, energy-dense foods has serious implications not alone for dental health but can also lead to chronic health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
In a statement to mark World Diabetes Day, the President of the IDA, Dr Conor McAlister pointed out that half of all Irish 12 year olds and three quarters of all 15 year olds have some decay in their permanent teeth. This makes it the most common chronic disease children experience in Ireland.
"There is overwhelming evidence that sugars in food and beverages are the main dietary cause of tooth decay and erosion in children and adults. In Ireland we have one of the highest per capita soft drinks consumption in the western world at over 100 litres per capita per annum, an average of at least one 330ml can per day. In addition to dental decay, people who consume excess sugar suffer higher rates of heart disease and diabetes" McAlister said.
The Irish Dental Association believes the Minister for Health should ensure public health warning labels are carried on all carbonated soft drinks and introduce legislation which would stipulate that the sugar content of food and drinks is highlighted.
"The health warning system has really worked well for tobacco and alcohol products and it is time for similar warnings to be placed on food and drink products so that consumers can make a fully informed choice. Studies show it is children from more deprived backgrounds who have a higher risk of decay and unfortunately these are the very people who have been hardest hit by the HSE's cutbacks in the public dental service" McAlister said.
Recently the IDA called on the Government to ensure that all revenue raised from a proposed 'sugar tax' should go to financing the restoration of the Medical Card scheme the PRSI scheme and properly funding the public dental service.
The IDA made the call as new figures showed a dramatic collapse in the number of routine treatments being provided under the medical card scheme.
A comparison between the figures from 2009 with the first eight months of this year shows that the number of fillings provided under the scheme has declined by 63%, the number of denture treatments has declined by 57% while the number of extractions has declined by 30%. Oral examinations have declined by almost a third.
The IDA said it was ironic that Ireland was continuing to cut its spending on dental health at the same time as the United States was singling out oral health for the first time as one of the leading health indicators of the US population.
In its pre-budget submission the IDA also called for the filling of all vacant posts in the HSE?s Public Dental Service and Orthodontic Service in order to reduce waiting times for both screening and treatment for tens of thousands of children and special needs patients around the country.
The IDA also believes some of the €85m assigned to the National Treatment Purchase Fund this year should be diverted to shortening orthodontic waiting lists.