Dentists are being urged to work alongside doctors in order to promote the importance of a healthy diet as part of an optimised oral health strategy, with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Australian Dental Association (ADA) joining forces to drive this message forward.

Encouraging and fostering relationships between the two professions should enable a targeted campaign that will heighten community awareness and improve overall health and wellbeing, the ADA asserts.

A clear aim of the partnership is to reduce the amount of sugary foods and drinks consumed by adults and children, particularly in and around the holiday seasons when intake is at its highest.

By working together, dentists and doctors can not only provide information and advice regarding the risks of poor diet, but offer healthy alternatives to better educate individuals for the long-term future.

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said: "While [sugary] foods and drinks provide excess calories, they have a detrimental impact on dental health and can also have an impact on a person's physical health."

Health risks

Tooth erosion is a serious concern for people who consume sugar-laden products, ADA president Dr Shane Fryer said, especially soft drinks, which can contain up to 13 teaspoons of sugar per 600 ml bottle.

"Sugary beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices and cordials may also be high in acid, which can have an erosive effect on teeth," he explained.

However, dental threats are not the only risk factor when consuming these products, with recent Australian research showing a clear link between sugary drinks and asthma rates.

According to statistics published in the journal Respirology, a study of 16,000 South Australian participants revealed that 13 per cent of those with asthma drank more than half a litre of soft drinks per day.

The survey, conducted by scientists at the University of Adelaide, showed incidents of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were also higher, with 15 per cent of people with COPD reporting similar consumption levels.  

Both the AMA and the ADA suggest warning against eating other refined snacks, including crackers, chips and lollies, as they are potentially harmful due to high carbohydrates and sugar content.

Alternatives and prevention

While Dr Fryer advised limited consumption of these products, the ADA acknowledges that cutting out sugary foods entirely among patients, especially children, is a difficult task.

Despite this, dentists are encouraged to promote drinking water regularly as an alternative to soft drinks, while ensuring good oral hygiene practices are followed - including daily flossing and brushing, both of which will lower the chances of tooth decay.

Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare indicate that many children in the country are already exhibiting problems associated with high consumption levels of sugary foods and drinks.

The organisation's data revealed more than half (58 per cent) of 15-year-olds in Australia have caries in their permanent teeth, while 40 per cent of children aged between six and eight years old are similarly afflicted in their deciduous teeth.

In order to reduce the risk of children developing oral health problems as they grow older, more appropriate snacks such as cheese and nuts should be recommended - although these too are best consumed in moderation and washed down with water.

Dr Hambleton said sugary alternatives are a guilty pleasure for many, yet they will lead to a range of dental and health problems down the road.

"Sugary foods and drinks are nice to have occasionally, but it's important to remember only to consume them on special occasions and not to include them as part of your regular diet," he added.

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