1 in 4 Australian children have untreated tooth decay: study

Friday 13 October, 2017

Ditch sugary drinks for a week and give your teeth a break, experts urge

Australians are being urged to do their teeth and their bodies a favour by swapping sugary drinks for water for a week from World Cavity Free Future Day tomorrow.

With an alarming 27 per cent of Australian children aged 5-10 living with untreated tooth decay,1 the Rethink Sugary Drink alliance is throwing its support behind the #ChooseWater challenge, being driven by the Alliance for a Cavity Free Future, the Australian Dental Association and Colgate.

Dr Hugo Sachs, President of the Australian Dental Association, a Rethink Sugary Drink partner, said young Australians are among the biggest consumers of sugary drinks, which are a leading contributor to tooth decay. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood and can significantly affect a child's quality of life.

"Alarmingly, one in four Australian children aged 5–10 have tooth decay that is not being treated. It's no coincidence that children are also heavy consumers of sugary drinks," Dr Sachs said.

Latest figures show that in a typical week:

  • Almost two-thirds of children aged 6–13 drink fruit drink or juice
  • Three in five consume soft drinks, and
  • Around one in three drink cordial or frozen drinks, such as Slurpees.2

"The consumption of free sugars is the most significant behavioural risk factor for tooth decay, if Australians can take steps to cut back on sugary drinks, such as taking up the #ChooseWater challenge for a week, then their teeth will be much stronger and healthier for it." said Dr Sachs.

As well as being dangerous for our teeth, the high levels of sugar in sugary drinks can lead to weight gain and overweight and obesity, increasing the risk of serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart and kidney disease, stroke and cancer.

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, also a Rethink Sugary Drink partner, said sugary drinks have no place in a healthy diet.

"A regular 600mL bottle of soft drink contains around 16 teaspoons of sugar – that's around 1.5 times the maximum recommended intake of added sugar in a day," Ms Martin said.

"The 18 groups behind Rethink Sugary Drink want to see a raft of policy measures implemented, from a sugary drinks health levy to an education campaign, to help reduce the impact of sugary drinks for all Australians young and old."

Rethink Sugary Drink recommends the following actions to tackle sugary drink consumption:

  • A public education campaign supported by Australian governments to highlight the health impacts of regular sugary drink consumption
  • Restrictions by Australian governments to reduce children's exposure to marketing of sugar-sweetened beverages, including through schools and children's sports, events and activities
  • Comprehensive mandatory restrictions by state governments on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages (and increased availability of free water) in schools, government institutions, children's sports and places frequented by children
  • Development of policies by state and local governments to reduce the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages in workplaces, government institutions, health care settings, sport and recreation facilities and other public places.

Australians are being urged to share their commitment to choosing water by using the #ChooseWater hashtag on social media.

About Rethink Sugary Drink: Rethink Sugary Drink is a partnership between the Apunipima Cape York Health Council, Australian Dental Association, Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists' Association, Cancer Council Australia, Dental Health Services Victoria, Dental Hygienists Association of Australia, Diabetes Australia, Healthier Workplace WA, Kidney Health Australia, LiveLighter, The Mai Wiru Sugar Challenge Foundation, Nutrition Australia, Obesity Policy Coalition, Stroke Foundation, Parents' Voice, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and the YMCA to raise awareness of the amount of sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages and encourage Australians to reduce their consumption. Visit www.rethinksugarydrink.org.au for more information.


1. 27% of children aged 5–10 years had untreated tooth decay, National Child Oral Health Study 2012-2014 p87.
2. Roy Morgan Young Australians Survey, July 2015-June 2016, n=2,876 Australian children 6-13 http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7101-sweet-drinks-much-more-popular-with-kids-than-older-aussies-201701031624 

Media contacts:

Shannon Crane – for interview requests for Jane Martin, Obesity Policy Coalition
M: 0432157270 E: shannon.crane@cancervic.org.au

Eithne Irving – for interview requests for Dr Hugo Sachs, Australian Dental Association 
M: 0419 550 186 E: Eithne.Irving@ada.org.au

Updated: 13 Oct, 2017