Seeing red on sugar

Lucy Stock, Dentist at Gentle Dental Care, Belfast on why 'traffic light' warning labelling on sweets and chocolates could be good news

The British Medical Association has suggested a traffic light system of labelling as a way to scare children off sugar and help to fight tooth decay
Lucy Stock

LAST week my 11-year-old son said to me, "mum, when am I getting my first filling? All my friends have one!"

Cue dentist mum head-flick, jaw-drop and "huh?!" squawk sound response.

Nervous laughter aside, is this a sad indication of our times when children and possibly adults think it's inevitable that their teeth will decay?

This week there has been talk about traffic light warning labelling on sweets and chocolates. The British Medical Association has voiced this option as a way to scare children off sugar and help to fight tooth decay and obesity. The labels could include pictures of rotten teeth and overweight children.

A third of children are overweight or obese when they leave primary school and tooth decay is the most common reason for children to be admitted to hospital. Data shows that there has been a 24 per cent rise in the number of tooth extractions in under 9s, from 2006 to 2016.

Similar photo warnings used on cigarette packets have been a successful deterrent to non-smokers and acted as motivation for those wishing to kick the habit.

Since their introduction in 2008, the proportion of adult smokers has decreased from 21per cent to 16 per cent.

There is great debate about whether food labelling on sweet packaging would be effective. I think the majority of parents and children know that sugar causes tooth decay and makes us fat.

At the same time, parents in general want their children to be healthy, pain free and have nice looking teeth. The really interesting question is why do we keep feeding our children unhealthy foods?

We are sensory beings who like to evaluate situations with first hand experiences. When working with people you find that change has a higher chance of happening when it affects someone personally.

So, when a parent sees their child screaming with toothache they tend not to want to go through that experience again so it stimulates a change in eating habits.

Having said that, we are all aware that its not always a straightforward path of experience something and then action to improve ourselves.

We have logical and emotional responses to our health topped off with a great dollop of self-denial.

Improved food labelling would be one way to help cement the connection with unhealthy food and health problems and hopefully make some children and parents think twice before choosing a high sugar snack.

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