ZB

John MacDonald: Action needed on child tooth decay

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 Jul 2022, 1:10pm
Dr Beaglehole says alerting people to the dangers of sugar has not worked - and tooth decay is a hugely pervasive problem. (Photo \ Getty Images)
Dr Beaglehole says alerting people to the dangers of sugar has not worked - and tooth decay is a hugely pervasive problem. (Photo \ Getty Images)

John MacDonald: Action needed on child tooth decay

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 Jul 2022, 1:10pm

If you don’t think we need fluoride in our drinking water, think again. And if you don’t think we need a tax on sugary drinks in this country, think that one over again too.

Because new research out from the University of Otago shows we desperately need both.

The numbers say it all. By the age of five, at least a third of all kids in New Zealand have had tooth decay. For Maori, it’s 60 percent and for Pasifika it’s 70 percent.

And University of Otago researcher Dorothy Boyd is saying that it’s unacceptable that there are kids experiencing preventable pain every day.

"We need to say, 'actually it's not okay that so many of our children can't chew, can't sleep, can't eat, can't play, because their teeth hurt'."

And she’s saying something needs to be done about it urgently. And I couldn’t agree with her more

The question is - what is that something urgent”?

If I had my way, I’d have fluoride in our drinking water tomorrow. Legislation forcing councils to fluoridate the water supply came into force late last year but it’s going to take a while before we see it happening in Christchurch, for example.

Did you know that Christchurch is the largest city in New Zealand not to have fluoride in the drinking water? The Council here isn’t terribly excited about paying the cost of fluoridation - it’s expected to be about $60 million - but I’m all for it. I’m all for the fluoride and I’m all for the Council paying for it.

I say that because I’m realistic. The money’s not going to come from the Government. So let’s just get on with it.

I know someone who has never had a filling in her life. She’s got amazing teeth and says her mother puts that down to the fluoride tablets the family took when they were growing up. So I've seen evidence that fluoride works and it works a treat.

But if we have a situation here in New Zealand where some parents can’t even get their kids to brush their teeth, then what chance is there of getting everyone to pop fluoride tablets every day? That’s why we need fluoride in the drinking water.

But, as I say, it’s not going to be the urgent answer we need to try and get less kids having teeth pulled out and have less kids living in pain every day because they’ve got rotten teeth by the time they turn five.

Sure, press on with all the planning and regulation frameworks and bickering over who’s going to pay for what but, in the meantime, do something else as well - because we can’t just let this situation go on. And actually, not just go on - potentially get a lot worse. It can’t happen.

So we need a circuit breaker. Something that’s going to actually force people to stop giving their kids these awful drinks. And the best option I see, as well as fluoridation, is making it more difficult for parents to buy the sugary drinks that we see everywhere.

Rows and rows of them at the supermarkets, shelves full of them at the dairies, kids sucking on them in their pushchairs - it is incredible how these drinks aren’t seen as just a treat anymore, kids are sucking on them every day.

And it’s not just the obvious offenders like Coke and Fanta - it’s all the so-called “healthy” fruit juices that are full of sugar too.

The person I mentioned earlier says as well as the fluoride tablets, only being allowed sugary drinks on special occasions is another reason she’s never had a filling in her life.

And the one surefire way of making it more difficult for parents to buy these drinks - or, at the very least, make them think twice about buying them - is to put the price up. And we could do that pretty much overnight by putting an extra tax on sugary drinks.

More than 45 other countries do it. We don’t. A piece of analysis that came out about a month ago found that in 12 of these countries, a sugary drinks tax led to a 15 percent drop in sales.

But that’s not enough to convince our government. It thinks introducing water and milk-only regulations in primary schools, developing a national physical activity plan and working to clearly identify added sugars on food labels are better options.

Which all sounds great. But none of those will do anything to solve the problem of at least a third of all kids in New Zealand by the time they are five having tooth decay.

Sometimes all the talk about raising awareness and promoting healthy choices just rings hollow. And this is a case in point.

Because let’s face it - if you’ve got no idea, no amount of nationwide physical activity plans is going to make you change. That’s why I’m convinced we need to hit this problem from all sides and why I think fluoridation of the drinking water is a must, and a tax on sugary drinks is a must.

If we don’t do these things - then we are failing the kids in this country, some of whom are already being failed by their parents.