AN increase in sugar consumption is thought to be behind a rise in tooth decay in children over the past decade.
While tooth decay declined substantially in children between 1977 and 1999, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows there has been a gradual increase since 2000 with two in three 12 year olds having tooth decay in their permanent teeth.
“Certainly there is a worry about the amount of sugary drinks and foods people are consuming,” Dr Adrian Webster from the AIHW said.
Professor Wendall Evans from the Sydney Dental School at the University of Sydney said the decline in cavities was dramatic in the 60s through to the 90s due to mass fluoridation, but a change in lifestyle and diet was beginning to take its toll.
“People are consuming a lot more fizzy drinks when they were once just a treat and there is a lot of sugar in fruit juice now. People are also eating prepared food more which is full of salt and sugar and light foods are full or sugar instead of fat,” Prof Evans said. “Tooth decay is caused by sugar.”
The 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found more than half of children aged 2 to 16 consumed sugar-sweetened beverages daily.
An American study found that by the time a child is 4-8 years old, sugar consumption skyrockets to an average of 21 teaspoons a day.
The AIHW report out this week also found one in three people in rural and regional Australia have untreated dental decay which was influenced by remoteness and socio-economic status.
While half of all adults in major cities have visited a dentist for a check-up once in the last year, less than a third did so in remote areas.
AIHW spokesman Dr Adrian Webster said income affected access to dentists with only 28 per cent of adults in the lowest income group visiting a dentist for a check-up in the past year compared to over half (56 per cent) in the highest income group. “Lots of people opt to not seek dental care because of cost,” he said.
People in higher income households generally have lower rates of untreated decay as well as fewer missing teeth, compared to those in lower income households.
About one-third of the lower income group had not visited the dentist at all in the past two years.