The annual challenge to ditch sugary drinks and Switch to Water is underway for November with organisers, the New Zealand Dental Association, highlighting the impact of sugar on Kiwi kids’ teeth.

The Health Minister Dr David Clark backs the Association’s ‘switch’ campaign but also chose National Oral Heath Day (November 2) as a “great time to acknowledge the work begun by former Labour Health Minister and dental nurse Hon Annette King” in initiating a major overhaul of the Community Oral Health Service for children. He said since that time the proportion of children free of tooth decay at age five had increased from 51% to 60% and for children aged 12 to 13 the rate had improved from 47% to 65%.

The Dental Association in launching the ‘switch’ campaign highlighted that about 36,000 New Zealand children had their teeth extracted last year due to decay and thousands required teeth extractions under general anaesthetic. NZDA President, Dr Bill O’Connor says members of the Association were united in their commitment to prevent unnecessary suffering from the impact of sugary drinks.

“I’ve talked this year about the massive sugar epidemic – we can’t be any clearer that sugary drinks pose a major risk to dental health. Sugary drinks contribute to tooth decay, and this requires expensive, and most importantly, preventable fillings.”

Clark acknowledged that there was more work to do – particularly amongst Māori and Pacific children – but said it was ‘fantastic that more of our children are growing up free from painful tooth decay”.

He said the Ministry was working with District Health Boards to grow the proportion of pre-school children enrolled and receiving publicly-funded care from the Community Oral Health Service. It was also working to keep children enrolled until age 18.

“This is important not just for the sake of our kids now but for their future. Evidence shows that oral health at age 5 predicts oral health at age 26.

Clark added that the Government knew there was also unmet need for oral healthcare among adult New Zealanders. “Working on the  oral health of our tamariki now is one way we can reduce that unmet need over time.”

O’Connor said the ‘Switch to Water’ campaign was one of positivity, and that while it “might be tough, it’s worth having a go to see what it’s like without sugary drinks”.

“So, sign up, support your mates – you’re all in this together. Start off Summer with a fresh, healthy change. Switching to water can be habit that you might just stick with. This challenge has options for individuals, schools, and workplaces. Visit switchtowater.co.nz today!”

Last year the challenge attracted nearly 20,000 people to sign up in the first week and overall 26,000 Kiwis took the Switch to Water challenge in November 2017.

The association said there was also great support from NZDA dentists up and down the country, and various health groups and DHBs also backed the challenge.

Alcohol is not part of the challenge but sugary drinks like tonic and cola are often used as mixers for spirits so a gin and tonic would be out.  Diet drinks are also not recommended as while they don’t have the calories they do have a high acid content which harms teeth.

A simple guide to how much added sugar there is in a drink is that there is 4g of sugar in a teaspoon, so a can of drink with 22g of sugar has 5.5 teaspoons.  Though nutrition panels often don’t distinguish between natural sugars in milk and added sugar.

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