Do you know your Brain Licker from your Juicy Drop Pop? They are novelty sweets, in case you are wondering. Novelty sweets are pocket-money priced, and available at corner shops, which means children keep going back for more.
As dentists we try to talk to parents about the ills of their children consuming too many sugary sweets, and often it feels a bit like being up against a brick wall. It can be truly frustrating and time-consuming.
But we have a big problem to solve: how do we persuade the younger generation that too many trips to the sweet shop are not good for them? It appears that a range of public health and promotional activities are needed to help stem the rising tide of childhood decay.
This issue is highlighted in a new BDJ Open paper that focuses on the expansion of the novelty sweets market and the potential impacts on children's oral health. If you've not got time to read this blog, try listening to this instalment of BDJ Bites and hear BDJ editor-in-chief Stephen Hancocks, giving you the two-minute potted version:
The researchers looked at the situation in Cardiff, and discuss the concerning trend for sweets being more easily accessible, available and marketed to children near their schools. The paper suggests that much more work is needed that involves those delivering dental and wider health care and promotion, to help combat this growing problem.
Novelty sweets are accessible to all age groups in most of the shops. Many are displayed in the checkout area in nearly 40% of shops and range from 39p up to £1. Juxtaposed with the knowledge that the average weekly pocket money for children is £6.20 a week (I'm sure it wasn't as generous as that in my day!), the potential for severe, sustained, tooth decay is concerning.
The shops selling these novelty sweets surveyed in this study were all within 10 minutes' walk of the schools, where children can buy items while walking to and from school and during lunch time. Some stores with multiple outlets sell novelty sweets only in shops in close proximity to schools – evidence that targeted marketing of these sweets is being used as a strategy by these stores.
Also concerning from this study, is the availability of these sweets in the most deprived areas – previously findings showed that shops sell these products because they are a palatable low cost source of energy. We know that rates of poor oral health are highest in the more deprived areas in the UK, and 66% of Welsh 15 year-olds experience decay, compared with 41% across the border – we've called for more investment in children's oral health.
The persistent inequalities we see are really troubling. In England, rates of tooth decay among five year-olds vary widely. For example, a child born in Blackburn and Darwen is nearly seven times more likely to experience decay than one born in Waverley.
This study on novelty sweets highlights that packaging design means that the sweets are sold in re-sealable containers, indicating that repeated consumption is almost being encouraged. Not a good thing for teeth, as we know. The heartbreak of seeing a child under five needing all their teeth removed is something no parent, child, or indeed, their dentist, should have to experience.
Being aware of some of the popular names of these sweets is a helpful start in connecting with your younger patients. We've been highlighting the amounts of sugars in drinks; you can post this on your social media channels, to help spread the message and start patients thinking a little bit more discriminatingly about what they are consuming. We've been calling for stricter controls on the marketing, advertising and clearer labelling of products, so that parents can make better informed decisions.
It takes time to educate patients. We need a coordinated approach from across the range of people involved in dealing with children (early years, schools, youth clubs, etc.), as well as the public health sector. It also needs corporates and manufacturers to sit up and take a more ethical stance on their responsibilities, and the government, through the Childhood Obesity Strategy, to make real change happen.
Chair, BDA Health and Science Committee
Sugar and children’s oral health
We have been leading on calls for radical action to lower the nation’s sugar intake, with measures ranging from lowering the recommended daily allowance, through to action on marketing, labelling and sales taxes. Have a look at our top tips for your patients.