Fewer children in England have been having rotten teeth pulled out since the sugar tax on soft drinks began, prompting calls for the levy to be extended to sweets, biscuits and cereals.
The number of children aged 18 and under going into hospital to have teeth extracted has fallen by 12% since the sugar tax came into force in April 2018.
The figures come from analysis of NHS data on hospital admissions of children to have decayed teeth pulled out, undertaken by researchers from Cambridge and Glasgow universities.
The trend means that an estimated 5,638 fewer children are having teeth extracted under general anaesthetic every year compared with before the soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) started.
The findings are based on an examination of the health records of almost 13 million children aged 18 and under in England, and are reported in a paper published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health.
Overall there has been a drop of 3.7 admissions per 100,000 zero to 18-year-olds since 2018. The biggest falls were among children aged up to four and from five to nine, where there were declines of 6.5 and 3.3 admissions per 100,000, the authors found.
“This is an important finding given that children aged five to nine are the most likely to be admitted to hospital for tooth extractions under general anaesthesia,” said Dr Nina Rogers, the study’s first author, from Cambridge University’s medical research council epidemiology unit.
No improvement was detected among 10- to 14-year-olds or 15- to 18-year-olds.
Dentists said the gains made in the fight against tooth decay since the levy came into force should embolden the government to impose a similar tax on other sugary products, including milkshakes, cakes, yoghurts, sweets, cereals and biscuits. This would push food manufacturers to reformulate their products to make them healthier in the same way as has happened with many soft drinks, the British Dental Association (BDA) said.
“The sugar tax is delivering the goods in the fight against tooth decay, so it’s time to double down,” said Eddie Crouch, the BDA’s chair. “This isn’t about adding to the cost of living. When voluntary action has clearly failed, this shows government must force industry’s hand on cutting sugar.”
The researchers concluded: “This study provides evidence of possible benefits to children’s health from the UK SDIL beyond obesity which it was initially developed to address.”
David Fothergill, the chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said the findings were positive but he urged ministers to let councils decide for themselves what public health and anti-obesity schemes the £355m a year proceeds from the sugar tax should be used for.
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