Regular tooth brushing has little effect on the teeth of adolescents who consume junk food sugar, suggests new research.
“What we found was that [most] young people who consume junk food like sweets, chips and sweet drinks, have a higher number of teeth filled compared to those kids who consumed them less frequently,” says Dental Association's Deepa Krishnan.
Ms Krishnan has been studying the link between consumption of junk food and dental damage in 13-17 year olds at the University of Auckland.
We also looked at whether tooth brushing is having any effect, and the demographics -- age, sex and deprivation status.
Dietary habits have changed with people consuming more processed products including fizzy drinks and sugar than in the past.
“The study suggests the effects of junk food extend beyond poor nutrition, obesity and its associated risks, to poor oral health, which remains the most common chronic disease in New Zealand,” she told the Public Health Association conference at Lincoln University in Canterbury last Thursday.
It incorporated information on oral hygiene and diet from a 2007 national survey carried out with around 9000 teenagers by the Adolescent Health Research Group from Auckland University.
Considerable funding is going into nutritional education in terms of obesity, diabetes and other health issues, but, says Ms Krishnan, there needs to be collaboration between public health and oral health professionals.
Messages about nutrition should also be about limiting the consumption of sugar, not just about counting calories, she says.
A recent report on young people’s dietary behaviours in New Zealand showed that “Only 21 percent of young people actually considered reducing sugar as part of healthy eating.”
“New Zealanders have increased their sugar intake almost 20 percent in the last 30 years. Easy accessibility and affordability of junk food, particularly sweet drinks, in our environment is ensuring this will not be reversed any time soon and the country will have to face rising costs to repair the damage done during adolescence,” Ms Krishnan says.
Dental diseases are expensive to treat. Teens are eligible to receive free, publicly-funded oral health services until the age of 18. In the 2009-10 year, the government spent $38m treating the teeth of 185,000 adolescents.